Penny Willimann got the desire to own her own business when she was in graduate school.
She was working full-time for a mid-sized company while concurrently getting her MBA from George Washington University, taking classes in small businesses and family owned businesses. The juxtaposition is possibly what sparked her desire to work for herself.
Even before she and her husband, Mike, were married, they discussed starting a business, but it wasn’t until they discovered a store in Mike’s hometown in Pennsylvania that they knew what they wanted to do.
“We just kept going back every time we would go up there,” Willimann describes, “And about two years ago, we said, ‘This would be perfect for Old Town.’”
It was then that the idea for Olio, an olive oil and vinegar tasting room, was born.
The concept of the store, which is set to open this month, is simple. The shop will be filled with stainless steel barrels called fusti, each with a small spigot. The fusti will contain a different variety of fresh extra virgin olive oil or aged balsamic vinegar, many infused with different flavors. Customers will be able to sample the choices and have their favorite flavors bottled in the store.
The store also will sell other types of complimentary food products like pastas and sauces, jams, jellies, dipping sauces and a variety of flavored sea salts.
With each trip to Pennsylvania, the Willimanns found that they would buy more products from their favorite store.
“We’d go in there and buy cases of oil and vinegar to give out as gifts and to cook with,” she said. “We couldn’t believe that no one had opened one here because stores like this are not actually new, they’re just new here.”
As for choosing Old Town as the location for their new venture, Willimann, who lives nearby, says that it was an easy decision.
“We just think it’s the perfect location. Having lived here for over 12 years, we know there are a lot of foodies here – many of them our good friends – and there are lots of great restaurants in the area.”
Located at 1223 King Street about 12 blocks from the water, Olio will be in the heart of the specialty food area of Old Town. Willimann says this was no accident. They are moving into the space vacated by Banana Tree.
“ is directly across the street from our store, and both and The Butcher’s Block are right up the street. There are fine dining restaurants as well, such as and . We felt like this end of King Street was geared toward niche food, so we looked for a space here.”
Asked if one needs to be a gourmet chef to appreciate the concept, Willimann smiles, “Definitely not. The vinegars, for example – I could practically drink them straight from the bottle. These aren’t what you traditionally think of – bitter, tart vinegar. We have a balsamic vinegar, aged eighteen years and infused with chocolate and raspberry, that you can pour over ice cream.”
She highlights another reason to stop by: “Our products also make excellent hostess gifts. Instead of bringing a bottle of wine, bring a bottle of olive oil. It is different, and it lasts longer.”
When asked about future plans for the store, Willimann said they intend to offer regular tasting events for patrons to learn about cooking with olive oils and vinegars.
“Quality olive oils are very much like wine with many flavors and nuances that you can taste on your palate. Depending on the variety of olive oil, it can impact what you’re cooking. Like wine, it helps to learn how to properly taste the oils. The quality of our olive oils will far surpass anything you can find in the grocery store.”
Olio will also feature different oils and vinegars daily and offer recipes for those who are still learning new ways to use the products.
Willimann says that she and her husband have learned a lot in the process of opening their own store, both about the oil and vinegar industry and about business in general – practical business elements that even the most comprehensive graduate school class cannot cover. But according to her, it is worth all the hard work, because the community seems excited about the opening of the new store.
“A lot of people have been stopping by the store and expressing their excitement. We put out a stack of business cards every day and at the end each day, they’re gone.”
Willimann looks forward to meeting her new customers and bringing a fresh concept to Old Town.