You would have to go back to old world history to find a family with deeper ties to the olive oil business, but the California olive oil industry has to look no further than Modesto to meet the current generation of the Sciabicas. This family’s love affair with olive oil began in Sicily at the turn of the 20th century and migrated to California in 1925, when Nicola and his son, Joseph came to Modesto to establish a vineyard. Eleven years later they added olives to their farming ventures and never looked back, growing the family enterprise into one of the most respected olive oil companies in the state.
It was with sadness that the industry learned the news of Joseph’s passing late last month at the age of 95. He and his sons, Daniel and Nick, have given much to the growth of the industry. So, we asked the latest Sciabica scion, Jonathan, to give us some insight into the future of this family so steeped in California’s olive oil past.
Why did you first get involved in the olive oil industry?
Our family has been producing olive oil in California since 1936. My great grandfather, Nicola (Nick) Sciabica and his son Joseph Sciabica started the company together. Nick Sciabica learned the art of olive oil production in Marsala, Sicily. In the 1930's, it was a venture to provide for the family. Today, the business is still providing for our family.
What do you think is the industry’s biggest challenge?
Education! It's not poor quality olive oil from the "imports" as most believe. It's the fact that the people consuming the poor quality olive oil do not know about the differences. When people realize that olive oil has FLAVOR, they will begin to explore California olive oil much like Napa wine. The problem of poor quality olive oil in the market will then solve itself.
What do you most enjoy about the business?
People. Our "family of customers" truly love the product we provide and we, in turn, love providing it. It's a match made in heaven.
What are you working on now?
Again, it’s all about education. It's not easy, but our goal is to "wake up" every potential high quality olive oil consumer in the U.S. The internet has given us a great avenue to provide information with online newsletters and constant interaction with customer queries.
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
Vacation?! My grandfather told me that's a bad word.
What quality do you most admire in a person?
Even-temperedness, which is usually a simple quality of understanding. There is no reason to get angry or overly excited. It doesn't fix problems.
What is your favorite food and olive oil pairing?
I love salad. Put chicken or steak or shrimp on it if you like, but salad rules, and there is no better place to use gobs of fresh extra virgin olive oil. Just be sure you use the right lettuce! It better be mixed greens or spinach and the like, or you're wasting your time. I also like to add fun ingredients like broccoli slaw, craisins, pecans, apples or raspberries. Then a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, high quality balsamic vinegar and you’re done. There’s nothing healthier or more delicious in my opinion.
What is your favorite place on earth?
What is your most satisfying achievement?
Well, I guess my problem is that I usually don't feel as if I've "achieved". I always feel like everything could be done better, so I keep working on it.
What was your most memorable meal?
My grandmother's eggplant parmesan brings up memories of simply sitting at her kitchen table and going back for more eggplant when everyone else was moving on to
What’s next on your horizon?
Growth! Not only for Sciabica's (we are putting in our first new olive oil mill in 30 years), but for the California olive oil industry as well. I truly believe that our time as an industry has moved into the spotlight, so it is especially important to continue to make the best products and provide the best customer service and consumer education possible. We plan to grow, but still want to maintain full control of our olive oil: from the olive all the way to our family of customers, through our website, we can ensure every bottle we sell is fresh and delicious, and has never "sat on the shelf".