When Mindy Lindeman worked in real estate, she dreamed of a career in food.
“I always wanted to have a store, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” she says.
Lindeman, who lives in Prairie Village, experienced her a-ha moment while shopping in Chicago with her husband, David Riley. They stumbled upon a store stocked with shelves upon shelves of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
“My husband says my eyes just lit up,” Lindeman says. “It was like I found my purpose.”
Lindeman left her real estate job and convinced Riley, a manager at a property management company with years of retail experience, to write a business plan for a store specializing in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and an assortment of local food products. In May 2011, she opened Olive Tree in Overland Park’s Hawthorne Plaza.
Shopping at Olive Tree is a delicious experience — the shelves along one wall are filled with more than 30 olive oils in stainless steel containers with spouts for sampling. Lindeman imports the oils from Greece, Chile, Italy, Spain, California and Texas, an up-and-coming olive oil-producing region. Many are infused with fruit, herbs or hot peppers.
Lindeman encourages her customers to try before they buy. When I went last week, she offered me tiny paper cups of blood orange and roasted chili-infused olive oil. The former packed a sunshine-y citrus flavor and aroma that reminded me of a freshly peeled orange. The latter tasted fruity at first, but finished with a smoky heat that singed the back of my tongue.
I was tempted to buy the blood orange flavor, which Lindeman uses in chocolate brownies and on roasted carrots, but went home with a bottle of the store’s bestselling Tuscan Blend olive oil. It’s produced in California and is infused with oregano, basil, garlic and rosemary. So far I’ve used the oil to lend fresh, herbal flavor to roasted potatoes and salads.
Olive Tree also sells olive oil infused with basil, jalapeño, Persian limes and Meyer lemons, to name a few. Across from the olive oil are shelves of red and white balsamic vinegars infused with everything from blackberries to lavender and smoke. I like the dark, sweet fig balsamic vinegar drizzled over roasted Brussels sprouts. One of Lindeman’s favorites is the white coconut balsamic vinegar, which she sprinkles over Caprese salads made with watermelon and fresh mozzarella.
Olive Tree’s oil and vinegar ranges in price from $14.95 to $34.95 per bottle, depending on the size. The bottles range from 100-milliliter bottles sold in gift packs to 750-milliliter bottles. The store has many regulars who come by every few weeks to restock their pantry — but about half of its sales occur during the last two months of the year, when customers come in to load up on holiday gifts.
The store also sells flavored salts, handcrafted cutting boards, cookware and a tempting assortment of locally made food products, from pickles and pasta sauce to jam and chocolate.
I couldn’t resist buying a four-pack of Flutternuffer bars ($10.95). The deliciously sweet and sticky confection from Kansas City chocolatier Lanmou coats layers of creamy peanut butter and homemade marshmallow fluff with dark chocolate. Consider it the chocolate bar version of a Fluffernutter sandwich.
Lindeman has built relationships with each one of her food suppliers, many of whom lead cooking classes at the store. On Monday, chef Jasper Mirabile led a course on incorporating heirloom tomatoes into pastas, salads and tarts.
Lindeman is glad she switched careers four years ago, but owning a business comes with its own set of challenges. A big one was the recent remodel of Hawthorne Plaza. Construction was scheduled to take three months, but lasted a year.
Now that the project is in its final stages — and new tenants The Mixx and The Container Store have opened nearby — Olive Tree is branching out with new customers, and Lindeman is stocking her olive oil reserves for what she hopes will be another busy holiday season.
Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every second and fourth week of the month. Contact her by calling 816-234-4823, emailing email@example.com or on Twitter @Sarah_Gish.
Location: 4937 W. 119th St. in Overland Park’s Hawthorne Plaza
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t miss: The Tuscan blend olive oil ($15.95 for a 200-milliliter bottle), extra virgin olive oil infused with oregano, basil, garlic and rosemary, and the fig balsamic vinegar ($14.95 for a 200-milliliter bottle).