Once upon a time, Sandra Reynolds was all of us, at least when it came to olive oil.
“The only olive oil I ever tasted was from the grocery store,” says Reynolds, a former nurse who lives in Apex. “It didn’t matter what brand; it always tasted the same.”
That changed when she attended a small business seminar in Pinehurst several years ago. The seminar featured six speakers, one of whom had opened his own olive oil specialty store, the first of its kind in North Carolina. Reynolds recalls being captivated by the owner’s description of fresh olive oil, and the subtle flavor profiles different varieties possess.
Soon after, she returned to Pinehurst, this time to visit the store and learn more about the business.
“I thought I would go for an hour but ended up staying there for half the day tasting,” says Reynolds. “I fell in love with it. I talked with [the store owner] about what he did and how he got started. Then I got in touch with the vendor, Veronica Foods, and that was that.”
Reynolds opened her first Peak Olive Oil store in Cary six years ago and added her Winston-Salem location (127 South Stratford Road across from Thruway Shopping Center) in 2016. She spends a typical week traveling between stores, often swapping inventory to meet the demands of her growing customer base.
The one thing Reynolds likes to say about good olive oil is that it makes preparing food easier for people trying to eat healthier. She says that’s what draws most of her customers in both locations. At the Stratford Road store, Peak Olive Oil gets referrals from both Wake Forest Baptist Hospital and a nearby family practice.
Many are patients with heart issues who’ve been warned off butter. Peak Olive Oil sells a butter-flavored olive oil as a healthier alternative for both frying and baking. Reynolds can give plenty of advice, as she’s trying to avoid salt in her diet. Olive oil is the perfect substitute, she says, lending everything from grilled meats to roasted vegetables a cleaner taste.
“It’s just so much fresher and crisper,” she says of fresh olive oil. “There’s no aftertaste to it, and different varieties give you different flavors. It’s like apples when you have a granny smith and red delicious. It’s just different.”
She sells two types of flavored olive oil. Fused olive oil is made by pressing fruit or herbs with the olives, which Reynolds says gives the oil more of a true fruit or herb flavor. Infused oil is flavored after the olives are pressed. All the flavored balsamic vinegars sold at the store are also infused.
Reynolds quickly learned that these different flavors of olive oil and balsamic vinegar really add a pop to common recipes.
“A lady came in once and said she’d made brownies from a boxed mix using our olive oil and dark chocolate balsamic,” says Reynolds. “She uses them like extracts. I played around with it and it actually worked. I used a blood orange olive oil with a boxed brownie mix, and it really boosted the batter. People were amazed it was from a box.”
Reynolds’ passion for olive oils and balsamic vinegars keeps growing with her business. She says she enjoys fielding questions and talking about the products with her customers at both Peak Olive Oil locations. And what she’s learning along the way is that many customers are spreading the good word about Peak. So the next step for her business, she says, is creating a more robust website to start selling to these people, too.
Meanwhile, you can log onto peakoliveoil.com and buy from a limited inventory right now. But as Reynolds’ can attest, it’s much more fun to drive to the Stratford Road store to taste test and talk about recipes with her and her staff.
Want To Go?
What: Peak Olive Oil
Where: 127 South Stratford Road, Winston-Salem
When: Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Misc.: 336-331-3069 or peakoliveoil.com.