Did you know that Veterans represent only 6% of the total U.S. population but account for 13.5% (or 3.7 million) of all small businesses in the United States? These businesses employ 5.8 million Americans, pay wages in excess of $210 billion and contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. GDP.
Our veterans committee is always considering new ways the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce might support veterans in our community, our workforce and as entrepreneurs. So in 2016, we're introducing In the Spotlight: Veteran Business Owners. Each month I'll feature a new veteran business owner – highlighting the diversity, creativity and community service of veterans who continue to strengthen our country with their small business endeavors and entrepreneurial spirit.
Want to be in the spotlight? Please email me information about your veteran-owned company and your service to our country.
In the Spotlight: Olive Vine Gourmet
Olive Vine Gourmet, located in the Springfield Town Center, is a veteran-owned small business operated by the Clark family that offers gourmet food products from around the world. The international flavor is a direct result of the many overseas assignments that Paul Clark, Sr. filled while serving in the U.S. Air Force for 27 years. He served in various command and headquarters leadership assignments with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations which conducts criminal and acquisition fraud investigations, and provides counterintelligence and force protection anti-terrorism support to military forces worldwide. And Carolyn Clark has served as a military spouse and "civilian veteran" for 36 years while working for the Department of Defense, the Air Force and Army - serving as an emergency essential civilian while in Germany with the 21st TAACOM.
The inspiration for establishing a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar store came from a family Thanksgiving vacation to Arizona. Paul and Carolyn were walking down the street in an artsy tourist shopping district and came across the most wonderful oil and vinegar store. They were so impressed with the health benefits of using olive oils and vinegars, the quality of the products, and the many flavor choices offered, that they did some inquiry when they returned to Virginia to determine whether these products were available in the Alexandria shopping area. Their research showed that many shopping malls were seeking exactly this type of product and they decided to venture out into the unknown world of business – first on Fort Belvoir followed by a full retail store in Springfield in 2014.
When assigned in a foreign land, the military has always taken great pride in ensuring that the entire military force is taken care of - much like an extended family. The Clarks’ mom and pop business is based on this same concept - if you treat each customer like family, and engage in meaningful conversations about the products and the value they bring, they are more likely to tell their friends and return to discover and taste even more. And continuing the tradition of family, the Clarks currently employ active duty military and spouses on part-time basis with hours to meet their schedules.
Olive Vine Gourmet carries more than 30 infused flavored balsamic vinegars plus ten white balsamic; more than 30 infused flavored olive oils and 15 raw, unfiltered, organic extra virgin olive oils. They offer exotic jerky and items like canned rattlesnake and alligator. Some of the best sellers include exotic spice blends, an array of spicy sauces, jellies and jams, pecans and peanuts, chocolates, Italian soaps and essential oils. You can even purchase a Himalayan salt block for cooking. With so many items in one place, visiting Olive Vine Gourmet is almost like taking your taste buds on a world tour.
With so many selections, many of which may be new to shoppers, the Clarks take time educating customers on pairing suggestions and tips for use. Olive oils, fresh fruit drinking vinegars and white balsamic vinegars are some of the items available for sampling daily. There are often wine and beer tastings on the weekends, too. You may want to consider a gift basket for Valentine’s Day!
For more information, pairing suggestions, recipes and uses, stop in and taste the difference or visit Olive Vine Gourmet online, olivevinegourmet.com.
Charles McCaffrey is the volunteer chair of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Veterans Committee. His fulltime job as director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center at Community Business Partnership pays the bills.