Dishing It: From Soup to Nuts
Step inside the cozy Fredericksburg, VA, shop, Taste: Oil, Vinegar, Spice, and you may not know exactly what to do first.
Lining the walls are two rows of silver tanks, each filled with one of Taste’s 40 varieties of top-grade olive oil and vinegar. A spigot at the bottom of each tank invites shoppers to fill a tiny plastic cup with the nectar.
Do you dip in your finger? Do you instead dip one of the the petite salted crackers from nearby dish? Or is swigging the flavorful liquid straight from the cup the best way to get a taste?
“It’s up to you,” insist proprietors Jan Davis (pictured right) and George Farrar (pictured below.).
They are always just a few steps away—ready to assist any customers with quizzical looks on their faces. “We get asked that question a lot.”
What is obvious is that Davis and Farrar—both former Navy officers who got married just four years before opening their first Taste in Culpepper, Va., in October 2011—are passionate about providing only the highest-quality ingredients to enhance shoppers’ favorite dishes.
“At Taste, we believe that fresh trumps everything,” Farrar insists. “That is why we offer only the freshest olive oils and organic spices from around the world, complemented by the most flavorful balsamic vinegars imported from Modena, Italy.”
One swig of the blood-orange-infused olive oil, followed by a sip of the cranberry pear white balsamic vinegar (which, when combined with a few other ingredients, makes what may be the best coleslaw ever), and it’s tough not to get addicted to the offerings at Taste.
We couldn’t agree more! That’s why we wanted to sit down with George and Jan to talk about their shop, how they got into the Taste business, and what are some of their favorite recipes.
In this podcast interview we discuss:
- Whether George and Jan had any retail experience before they opened their first shop in Culpepper in 2011
- How do you manage that shop, and the one they opened on main street in Fredericksburg, VA in 2012
- What have been the most fun interesting, enjoyable, and challenging things about being entrepreneurs
- How they balance love and business.
- And more …
Download our podcast interview with George Farrar and Jan Davis, at right.
- Click here to read our the article we crafted for Be Inkandescent magazine based on our interview with George and Jan.
- Want a sneak peak? Scroll down for more.
Be Inkandescent: What made you want to open Taste?
George Farrar: We were on vacation in Maine, and saw a shop that was offering fresh, extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs) and balsamic vinegars. We had a grand time in there sampling everything. It was our first exposure to that business model, and through the rest of our vacation, we made a point of seeking out other oil and vinegar shops and then started doing some research. That was in May of 2011, and by October we had opened our first store.
Be Inkandescent: Wow, that is really impressively fast. Did you already have experience in the retail industry?
George Farrar: Other than working in a grocery store when I was about 16—absolutely none. Both Jan and I are retired Navy officers, and then we both spent about 10 years in the government consulting world before we launched Taste on our own.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us a little bit about your background, Jan, what was your career like, and what inspired you to open Taste in addition to seeing something like it in Maine and saying, “We have to do this!”
Jan Davis: Well, I joined the Navy decades ago, and I had a Navy career for years before working as a contractor for the federal government. As I was nearing retirement age, I started looking to do something else—something that didn’t involve a long commute. My little sister is an entrepreneur, and she has a frozen custard store in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, VA, called The Dairy Godmother. She was having too much fun to let her be the only one to do it. From there, we started looking for something that we could do that would be fun as well.
Be Inkandescent: Taste is certainly a great idea, and as a customer, it’s easy to get addicted to the aromatic flavors—not just because they are delicious, but also because they make cooking like a gourmand so easy. Did customers take a while to figure out the process of tasting the different oils, vinegars, and spices?
George Farrar: We get a wide variety of people. Some have experience with this type of store, and to others, it is completely foreign to them. People who haven’t been in a shop like this before come in and ask, “Is this a wine tasting or coffee tasting?” Others ask for some tips to tell them what’s going on. We generally try to gauge whether or not the customer has had experience with this type of store, and if they haven’t we take the time to explain it to them; what the layout is, what’s in the different containers, and how to go about tasting. Then we offer them suggestions along the way once they get familiar with what they are doing.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us about the different flavors and the things you can make with the oils and vinegars.
George Farrar: The main thing we like to promote is the extra virgin olive oil that is nothing but the olive. We have about a half-dozen varieties of olive, so you can have an extra virgin olive oil that’s very mild, one that is very robust, or something in between. People realize that extra virgin olive oil actually has its own intrinsic flavor that is very good. It’s much like when you go to the grocery store and get an apple that came from who-knows-where, that apple tastes okay, but if you go to the orchard in Rappahannock County and pick one off the tree, you’re talking about a whole different taste sensation. That is the real difference between our fresh extra virgin olive oil and what we think of as the maybe not-as-high-in-quality extra virgin olive oils that people often buy in supermarkets. That’s the “plain oil” business.