Maker of marinated olives finds a national market and beyond
What do olives have to do with the International Space Station? With an Italian astronaut onboard, pizza is a priority.
In December 2017, astronaut Paolo Nespoli had been onboard the International Space Station for more than 100 days and missed one of his favorite foods — pizza. His team on Earth listened and sent all the ingredients for a pizza party from the resupply ship. One of the ingredients happened to be Sicilian Village Olives, made and packaged in League City.
NASA shops at Texas-owned H-E-B grocery stores, so when all pizza ingredients made it to space, Sicilian Village Olives owner David Quartaro couldn’t have been happier, he said.
Quartaro, owner of Sicilian Village Olives, has an exclusive agreement with H-E-B, meaning it’s the only grocery store that sells his olives in Texas.
“That’s quite an honor,” Quartaro said. “If they give you an exclusive, you have a good product, and now that our olives are in around 1,300 grocery stores across the U.S., plus sold on Amazon, we couldn’t be happier.”
The company’s success grew from a hobby and came from hard work and persistence, he said.
Quartaro spent most of his early career in the PEO, or professional employer organization industry, which provides outsource services to small- and medium-sized businesses. His wife, Stacey, also was working, he said.
“Being a third-generation Italian, I was always impressed with how both sets of my great-grandparents came to America from Sicily in 1901 and suffered many hardships, but always got back on their feet. Family is important to me and food always brought us together.”
Quartaro started his business as a hobby in 1999, making his special marinaded olives as gifts for friends, he said.
“Everyone wanted to pay us because they wanted to buy some for their friends,” he said. “We were meeting people in the local H-E-B parking lot, and it became something we couldn’t ignore with everyone telling us we needed to get our olives out into the public.
“So, in 2004, we hired our first co-packer, and the olives were packed in deli cups. All case packaging and finishing was done in our dining room and living room. My first customer called me from Iron Mountain, Michigan, saying he’d heard about our olives from a friend in Friendswood. The guy told everyone he knew that ‘you are going to flip out when you eat these olives.’”
From 2008 to 2014, Quartaro and his family were filling orders and selling on Amazon, to Carrabba’s — the Original on Kirby Drive and the one on Voss Road, both in Houston — as well as other restaurants, he said.
“After my grandfather became ill and passed away, something changed in me and I knew I had to go forward, so I trademarked the name, worked on improving packaging, left my PEO job and got busy,” he said.
Today, Sicilian Village Olives operates in a 6,250-square-foot warehouse in League City encompassing five suites.
“We do everything right here with my wife, Stacey, and other family members as part of the team,” Quartaro said. “We now have automated machinery and packing equipment and produce two kinds of olive packs — green and a combo pack of green and Kalamata olives — that are cured for nine months in a salt brine solution.”
The company gets its green olives from northern California, Kalamata olives from Greece and its extra virgin olive oil from Italy. The marinade consists of red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pepper and oregano. Salt already is in the product from the brining, he said.
With plant-based foods becoming more and more popular these days, olives seem to have risen to the top of the list, especially because they’re a fermented food, gluten-free, kosher certified, and are all natural with no preservatives, Quartaro said.
“Those who are into fitness like our products and prefer eating olives after a workout as opposed to reaching for a Gatorade,” he said. “Our olives are more of a snack, but they also make great salads, sandwich spreads, delicious in casseroles and on pizza. A lot of chefs have gotten very creative with our product, putting them in antipasto and pasta dishes.”
Sicily is the soul and breadbasket of Italy. Plus, with a strong link to the country, it was only fitting that Quartaro name his product Sicilian Village Olives, he said.
“We are about to grow out of our present location, so we’ll be building our own facility soon,” he said. “But in the meantime, we will continue making olives and honor the legacy of all Italian immigrants.”