Tamara Oldenburg-Sires is an olive oil expert.
By Alisha Jucevic
“Come on over here and give it a try,” says Tamara Oldenburg-Sires, motioning for a customer to follow her to the tasting bar set up at the back of the shop.
The customer wandered into the shop looking for a greeting card, and after he made a skeptical comment about olive oil, Oldenburg-Sires is determined to have him try the oil.
“I promise you’ll be surprised,” she says. “Here, let’s try my new favorite, basil olive oil and peach balsamic.”
The customer looks unsure. Taking the little cup from her hand he brings it to his lips. Suddenly, his eyes light up.
“Wow,” he says “Wow! That is really is good.”
Oldenburg-Sires smiles, her face gleaming with satisfaction.
Oldenburg-Sires’ love of olive oil began seven years ago on a food and wine trip to France. Her and her husband Michael Sires loved the warm, family feeling of meals in France so much that they came up with the idea of opening a shop with fine wines and olive oils.
At the time they were living in the north woods of Wisconsin, where Oldenburg-Sires grew up. This idea of an olive oil shop lingered, and on a trip to Oregon, the man sitting next to them on the plane asked to switch with a man sitting a few rows up. When she starting talking to the man who moved into the seat next to her, he coincidentally happened to have a friend who was an olive oil and wine consultant.
Up until this point Oldenburg-Sires and her husband had tried buying existing businesses where they lived in Wisconsin, but nothing was working out. Strange happenings, like snowstorms closing the nearby bank when they had to wire money, would occur that seemed to be turning them in a different direction.
Oldenburg-Sires has always had an eye for business. As a young adult, she helped her parents with their commercial vehicle repair business. This experience gave her extensive practice in the challenges of running a business, especially the accounting aspect.
“It gave me the confidence to know I could open my own business,” Oldenburg-Sires says.
Meeting the man on the plane was the start to a line of events that led to the opening of Olive Grand, Oldenburg-Sires’ olive oil and gourmet gift shop in downtown Eugene.
“It was an amazing feeling of doors and pathways being opened, rather than feeling like you were always trying to force and make something happen,” Oldenburg-Sires says.
When she tasted the olive oil in France, she was surprised by the taste. The oils in France had a completely different and incredibly finer taste than those in America, she says.
“It’s an area that I personally wanted to learn more about,” Oldenburg-Sires says.
Beverly Fernandes, a Eugene resident, met Oldenburg-Sires and her husband when they were first moving into their first location on Willamette. Fernandes, who loved the olive oil she tasted in Portugal when she traveled there years ago, says Oldenburg-Sires’ bubbly and kind personality creates the perfect welcoming atmosphere in the store. Fernandes says that the quality of oil in Olive Grand better than any she has found since her trip to Portugal. Oldenburg-Sires has more knowledge of olive oil than anyone she has met in America, says Fernandes.
The shop includes a full tasting bar, allowing customers to try all of the flavors are available in the shop. Small olive growers in California produce the olive oil at Olive Grand. With the production close, Tamara and her husband are able to visit these growers to taste the oil, and meet the people they are working with. During the first stages of production, blood oranges, lemons and limes are pressed with the oil to create these different flavors.
Oldenburg-Sires believes that there is a lot of room for their business to grow its local component. She wants to partner with caterers and wineries to have events at their shop, and possibly host an artist from the Saturday Market during a First Friday art walk. The shop’s new location near the Saturday Market will also allow Oldenburg-Sires to start classes. “Olive Oil 101” is what she calls it. This, she says, will let her show people how to cook with the different olive oils.
“We’ve learned you want to have these visions of growth in certain areas, but your business takes on its own little form and will take you where it wants to take you,” Oldenburg-Sires says.
To her gratification the man looking for a greeting card is surprised and delighted by the taste of the olive oil. Although he doesn’t guy the olive oil, he does buy a greeting card from a selection of cards made by local artists that Oldenburg-Sires carries in her shop. As he leaves, he assures her that he would stop by again if he were in need of flavorful gifts.
“I see it myself when people come in here. I feel like they’re coming into my home, almost like they’re coming into my kitchen, and I want to make them comfortable, make them happy, and give them something good to eat,” Oldenburg-Sires says. “It’s just as simple as that.”
For more information about Olive Grand visit: olivegrand.com