By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Steiner Ranch residents Jeff and Tabatha Conarko both knew they were tired of corporate America. Having traveled frequently to Europe, the couple — who were Dell Inc. employees — loved the Mediterranean diet and dreamed about opening their own specialty olive oil shop.
It was an illness that gave them the motivation they needed to make their dream a reality, as soon after they were married, Jeff was diagnosed with leukemia.
“It was devastating,” said Tabatha. “But we’re very lucky because the medication worked for him. We’re so thankful.”
Now in remission, Jeff still takes daily medication and travels to M.D. Anderson once a year, but that has not stopped the couple from opening Con Olio Oils & Vinegars.
The Conarkos opened their first store in the Arboretum in November 2009. Jeff ran the business the first couple of years while Tabatha kept working at Dell. Then two years ago, she gave up her corporate job to focus on the business full-time.
They added two more locations, one in the Second Street District in downtown Austin and the other in Bee Cave. Tabatha said they never imagined having multiple stores.
“That wasn’t our intention,” she said. “Our intention was to work for ourselves, alleviate the stress in our lives, live a healthier lifestyle and spend more time with our children.”
Olive oil & vinegar tips
Tabatha takes olive oil very seriously.
“Our product is very different than what you buy at the grocery store,” she said. “We’re not just a fancy olive oil shop. Every customer that walks in our door, we educate them on what’s different, why we’re different, why it tastes so different.”
She said their importer works with the finest small batch producers around the world. From planting to harvesting to getting the olive to the press as quickly as possible, they have the highest standards. They also have their oils tested by a lab to ensure it’s pure and not mixed with any other oils.
“There’s a lot of fraud in the olive oil industry, unfortunately,” she said.
Many olive oils sold in the grocery store have other oils such as soybean or nut mixed with them, she said. Also, most distributors do not put the oil’s harvest date on the label, so consumers have no idea how old the oil is.
“It’s so critical to know the harvest date. It’s within that first year that it is the best,” she said.
Because they get their oils from both the northern and southern hemispheres, they are able to keep a fresh stock year-round. She compares olive oil to a fresh orange or lemon that one would pick from a tree. Once it is juiced, it soon starts to lose flavor.
“Olive oil is the best that it will ever be, health wise and taste wise, on the day it was pressed,” she said. “Every single day after that, it starts aging and starts losing the health benefits.”
Extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols, an antioxidant that has been shown to help fight cancer, reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
Another tip she has for consumers is to always buy olive oil in a dark bottle and to keep a tight seal on the bottle, to prevent it from aging faster.
Con Olio customers can sample the different varieties of olive oil before they buy one. There are many single varietals to choose from, which range from robust flavor to mild. There’s also a large selection of infused oils with flavors such as chipotle, wild mushroom or green chili.
In addition to olive oil, Con Olio also carries a large selection of all-natural light and dark balsamic vinegars. Tabatha said that balsamic vinegar, when it’s not mixed with sugar, also has great health benefits. She said many kinds that are sold in the grocery store have added sugar or thickeners.
She said balsamic vinegar differs from olive oil in that it has a much longer shelf life and actually gets better the older it is.
Prices for both olive oil and balsamic vinegar range from $4.99 to $35.95.
Con Olio Oils & Vinegars often have special events such as “Olive Oil 101” classes, which are listed on their website www.conolios.com.
Tabatha said she and her husband have no regrets about leaving their corporate jobs. They now have more time to spend with their three children, ages 15, 11 and 8. They are hoping to take the whole family on a trip to Italy this summer.
“This is the happiest I think we’ve ever been,” Tabatha said. “What’s so rewarding is we’re making an impact in the community. It’s been fun. We always tell each other we’re so busy but we’re not stressed. It’s a good busy. We have three children. This allows us to spend more quality time with our kids.”