There’s something mellow about the way Jamie Griffiths does business. The guy is seriously calm. He emits an essence of happiness as he chats with customers in his Old North London shop, from his perch next to the front window. Surrounded by more than sixty gleaming silver tanks of olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Jamie has managed the most important aspect of being an entrepreneur and a father. That sometimes elusive work-life balance is solidly in his grasp. Since opening The Pristine Olive Tasting Bar nearly four years ago, he and his wife Clara have welcomed two babies to their lives. All while they have launched a new concept business, and Clara has held down a demanding customs broker position with Wilson International.
From the start, the couple bucked the retail food trend and closed the shop on Sundays. Newborn son Reid went to the store with Jamie on Mondays, and spent Saturdays with Clara as Jamie worked in the shop on the busiest day of the week. Luckily, the Griffiths have the strong support of grandparents who pitch in and babysit on Fridays. The family now includes daughter Ally, whose care is added to the mix.
Once done his grandparenting duties on Saturday morning, Dave Griffiths hightails it to the Western Fair Farmers’ Market, where he offers samples to shoppers, through the company’s retailer at the market, The Village Meat Shop. From the busy corner stall, Dave enthusiastically offers samples from a selection of oils that includes the most popular flavour, Tuscan Herb. It pairs well with the local lamb and pork sold by Erin and Andrew Jardine at Village Meats.
“Dave is in his element at the market,” says Clara Griffiths of her father-in-law. “He loves to work there and he has a passion for the product,” she adds. Through market sales, Dave also encourages market shoppers to visit The Pristine Olive for a more complete tasting experience.
Before opening The Pristine Olive, Jamie and Dave Griffiths worked together in a telecom consulting company. Jamie said he was looking “for a change” but he knew he wanted to be self-employed. While Clara and Jamie were on vacation in Halifax in 2011, shortly after getting married, they stumbled into Canada’s first olive oil tasting bar, Liquid Gold. Taken by the concept, Jamie travelled with his father to Oakland, California where they toured Veronica Foods, supplier of oils and vinegars to Liquid Gold. “It was such an awesome experience, learning about it,” says Jamie. He returned a second time and since then he has also attended “olive oil summits” to meet farmers and producers who sell to Veronica Foods. The company is the sole supplier of product to The Pristine Olive, which sells 64 oils and vinegars, including 12 single cultivar extra virgin oils. “Veronica is an awesome company to work with. They are a supplier; we are not a franchise. Yet they give us super support.”
The Pristine Olive also carries a small line of complementary products including olive oil based shampoo, conditioner and body wash. The Griffiths also sell some other food items including pesto made with olive oil, smoked artichoke tapenade, roasted red peppers in oil, meat rubs and hot sauces. They are toying with adding a line of locally made chocolates that contain their flavored oils. Throughout the shop are beautiful olive wood bowls and cutting boards — perfect for salads and dipping breads.
Recently the Griffiths were able to hire an employee, which frees up some time for Jamie to leave the shop. He’s able to run the kids to a nearby daycare, as they are getting too old to dash around the shop. And he supplies other retailers, including Jay Dancin in Lambeth, The Mill House in Arva, Thames Market in Ingersoll and All ’Bout Cheese on Dundas St. in London.
Still, where Jamie seems most content is back in North London, where he has lived all of his life. “It’s been a great little spot. There are so many faces we see all the time,” he says. “Our shop hours are built around Reid and Ally. We open at 10:30 and close at 5:30. And we close on the kids’ birthdays.”
“We’re still learning about the work-life balance, how to minimize stress,” says Clara. But, looking at this couple, it is apparent they know how to bottle success.
The Pristine Olive Tasting Bar
462 Cheapside St, London
Just one of the 160+ recipes at thepristineolive.ca
Ricotta-Basil Olive Oil Spread
This easy spread has an aioli-like consistency but uses no eggs. Instead, fresh, part skim ricotta stands in, lending a creamy-dreamy texture and richness.
I chose to use a Chilean Arbequina for this application. With its grassy-herbaceousness, apple peel center, and healthy peppery finish, it served to cut the richness of the ricotta and provide an interesting counterbalance.
A clove of garlic, squeeze of lemon and sprig of basil later, the spread came together magnificently. I toasted some bread and liberally slathered it with the spread. However, it would be equally delicious as a mayonnaise replacement, a dip for crudites, or spread on fresh grilled salmon.
1½ cup part skim ricotta cheese
½ cup Ultra Premium, Chilean Arbequina EVOO
five-inch sprig of fresh basil, washed and dried
1 clove fresh garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Place the ingredients inside the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until creamy and smooth in consistency.
Adjust seasoning and store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.