Christi Lassen can tell you the exact Spanish grove that harvested the extra virgin olive oil her guests sip and swirl. She can talk about the families who run the groves and their histories; she can relay how each grows the olives and their pressing process. When the owner of Olivia Olive Oil opened Williamson County’s first gourmet olive oil boutique and tasting bar in October 2010, she made a personal commitment to invest in the research of the product for her customers.
“We independently look into different award-winning olive groves around the world. I can tell you pretty much everything about each brand we carry,” she said. “I’m even in contact with the owner of these olive groves. It’s important to me that we’re offering the best product available.”
Since its launch, the shop on Cool Springs Boulevard carries nearly 30 extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars. And each bottle is handpicked seasonally – Lassen is currently in the midst of selecting samples from the latest international harvest. Her store also offers a selection of gourmet foods, gluten-free mixes, kitchen accessories and specialty gifts, and even carries exclusive body and baby products based with olive oil.
Unlike many gourmet stores, Lassen said she purposefully promotes a non-intimidating atmosphere. Knowing that many of her customers are initially novices, she created a tasting station that allows guests to belly up to the bar for a sip and dip of fl avor-fused oils and aged balsamic vinegars from California, Italy, Spain, Chile and soon Greece. After a series of questions, Lassen walks guests through what they are looking for, and educates them on the healthy kick one feels at the back of the throat after throwing back a shot, or why aged vinegar is thicker than another.
Often times, Lassen is even a mixologist of sorts, expounding on the robust or daring notes of a product and counseling clients on how to craft the perfect summer salad dressing.
“These are products that anyone from the novice cook to seasoned chef can get excited about using. Someone like me, who does not really cook a lot, can create a very simple dish that tastes elaborate,” she said. “It makes for very easy gourmet cooking; I can drizzle basil olive oil and 18-year-aged balsamic vinegar over a caprese salad, and it tastes decadent.”
The Georgia native, who relocated from Los Angeles to begin the business, said her mother, along with locals Kate and David Horner, initially encouraged her to bring her love of the healthy food to Middle Tennessee.
“These boutiques have gained popularity in California and Europe,” she said. “I’m passionate about it because we’re bringing something that is really super healthy to the area, and yet it tastes like a gourmet treat.”
In recent years, experts have found an abundance of health benefi ts interlaced in extra virgin olive oil, from fi ghting heart disease and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to weight loss aid and arthritis ache relief. Lassen said the health incentives derived from extra virgin olive oil is what initially walks many people through her doors, but it’s the quality and taste of Olivia Olive Oil’s brands that keeps them coming back.
“Everything we have is tested, pure and of the highest quality. The difference between our olive oil and buying something in the grocery store is extreme,” she said. “A study found that 60 percent of imported olive oil is cut with canola oil or lower-grade oils that should only be sold as lamp oil. Or even if it is pure extra virgin olive oil, most often by the time you buy it in the grocery store it is old and has lost its fl avor and major benefits.”
Though she brought a relatively new concept to Williamson County, Lassen said that she’s been pleased with the response from locals, and attributes much of that enthusiasm to the spirit of Franklin.
“There is such a sense of community here,” she said. “And I know that other small business owners appreciate that, too.”
For information, visit www.OliviaNashville.com.
This is part of a series on merchants in downtown Franklin. To read more, visit www.downtownfranklintn.com.
Posted on: 4/5/2013