After a conversation with Pat O'Brien at his Bar Harbor establishment, I was ready to drink a healthy slug of olive oil, or maybe vinegar. He has that effect on a lot of people.
Fiore artisan olive oils and vinegars just celebrated its one year anniversary this summer. It was not only the celebration of a successfully growing business venture, but also the fulfillment of one couple's dream to make a living and a life in the state of Maine.
Pat and Nancy first came to Maine about 6 years ago. Nancy is the researcher, Pat told me. She learned everything she could about Maine before they departed for Acadia National Park, bringing plenty of books and pamphlets along on their trip. "She was the tour guide while I drove," said Pat. "By the time we got here I knew more about Maine than you could imagine."
And they loved it. "We decided to figure out what we could do to stay here."
A friend of theirs who was a great cook had learned about olive oils from an importer in California - the longest standing olive oil importer in the country with 79 years' experience. The friend opened a tasting room in Wisconsin, where Pat got his first taste of the business. He was looking for a way to create a livelihood in Maine, so he went to California to meet the importer.
"We educated ourselves," said Pat. He and Nancy learned everything they could about the highest standards of cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from the finest producers in the world. They were excited too, to learn about the health and nutritional benefits of high quality olive oils and vinegars.
"I take two ounces every morning," Pat told me, as he took a sip of oil from one of the tasting cups on their counters. He believes thoroughly in his product.
Sipping olive oil and vinegar may seem strange to the uninitiated, but these flavorful delicacies are not like anything you have ever tasted off the shelves of a supermarket. Visiting the tasting room is an entertainment in itself. It is like taking a short seminar with hands on experience at the end. Many a customer has entered the building curiously skeptical, and exited the building with several filled bottles in hand.
Pat and Nancy came from jobs in advertising, marketing and packaging, so they had a good background in the sales and marketing part of business. They joined the Chamber of Commerce and a local merchant association that promotes year round businesses in Bar Harbor. Their expertise and loving dedication to the business shows in their presentation, which is Nancy's specialty.
"Nancy is the founder and the visionary behind the operation," Pat told me. It is her special touch behind the beautiful design and layout of the tasting rooms and the website. Part of the allure of a visit to Fiore is the atmosphere of welcome and light. It feels almost like a gallery space, showcasing oils and vinegars instead of artwork.
One of the best parts for Pat is that "there is no confrontation in this business. People come in, they taste things, they get educated." It is all about enjoyment, good taste and good health. "I love it! It's the most fun I've had in years."
It used to make Pat a little bit nervous when Italians came into the store. Before Fiore became established and embraced by local restaurants and consumers, Pat and Nancy weren't sure how they would be received. Pat told a story of an Italian woman who came in one day and brushed aside his offer to tell her about the olive oils. "I know all about olive oil," she said, and proceeded to taste some of Fiore's products.
"Oh! Molto buono!" she exclaimed to her friend with a flourish from her hand. That's when Pat knew that they had truly made it.
So it looks like Pat and Nancy O'Brien are happily here in Maine to stay. Their new Rockland store opened three months ago and is doing well, thanks to the continuing enthusiasm of the owners. Their bright energy is infectious, and you want to return just to be in a place where the owner says this about his job --
"I have fun every day!"
In Bar Harbor: 8 Rodick Place 207-801-2580
In Rockland: 503 Main St. 207-596-0276
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