From left: Business Council of Alabama President and CEO William J. Canary; BCA 2016 Chairman Tommy Lee, president and CEO of Vulcan Inc. in Foley; King’s Olive Oil partner TC Morgan; King’s Olive Oil owner Tena King; Morri Yancey, president, Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce; Heather Brothers New, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Decatur/Etowah County; Loren Traylor, vice president investor relations, Birmingham Business Alliance; Jeremy Arthur, president and CEO Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.
A little more than three years ago, non-profit and education manager, Tena King took a chance and opened an extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop on Broad Street in historic downtown Gadsden in northeast Alabama.
King became interested in extra virgin olive oil and its health benefits while researching the best care and treatment for her mother after a liver transplant. It struck her that her interest in her mother’s treatment would be a good business model, especially since King’s interest is in helping people. So she opened King’s Olive Oil as a tasting shop in October 2013.
Today, King’s Olive Oil Co. at 618 Broad St. that was started by King and her husband, TC Morgan, sells premium extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars locally and by mail-order to a growing customer base around the country.
Last month, King’s Olive Oil Co. was named an “Alabama’s Small Business of the Year” in the small business category of between one and 10 employees by the Business Council of Alabama and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama. The award sponsored by the Birmingham Business Alliance was presented at the BCA-CCAA Partnership annual meeting in Birmingham last month.
In addition to King’s Olive Oil Co., finalists were the Art Room Gifts and Framery in Monroeville; Bryant Bank, Trussville; Willie Durham State Farm Agency in Montgomery; Furniture City in Robertsdale; Holt Insurance Agency, Bessemer; Mark’s Mart in Selma, Karen C. Simmons P.C. in Mobile; Superior Pecans in Eufaula; Swell Fundraising in Birmingham; and WWIC-AM 1050 in Scottsboro.
“We took a leap of faith,” King said in a recent interview. “We opened out of a need for healthy alternatives to spices and salts. We needed food with taste, without the additives, preservatives, sodium, and sugars.”
King and Morgan visited an olive oil and vinegar store elsewhere and had bought some products, the Gadsden Times reported in a feature. King learned that extra virgin olive oil was good to cook with and to safely serve her mother.
King said that most businesses like hers are located in tourist towns with high traffic volumes. But King’s family has been involved in businesses for generations and she was familiar with both opportunities and obstacles in running a small business.
“My family has always been in small business,” King said. “My grandmother has been in the antique business since the late 1960s. My background is I have about 19 years in non-profit work and/or education. “My last position was program manager for the College of Continuing Studies at The University of Alabama Gadsden Center.”
King stayed in her position as a program manager while getting her business off the ground floor but then took the leap of faith to work full time building it.
King said her business model is built around community involvement. She is involved in the Gadsden-Etowah County Chamber of Commerce, United Way, She’s All That, Downtown Gadsden Inc. and speaks regularly to civic clubs such as Rotary and Kiwanis, retiree organizations, churches, women’s clubs, and anyone that needs a presentation about her unique business and products.
Her website says shoppers can treat their taste buds to an incredible array of extra virgin olive oil flavors from around the world or aged and flavor-fused balsamic vinegars from Italy. The extra virgin olive oils are bought from olive oil-producing countries from the two hemispheres, depending on who has the freshest based on crush date.
“Owning a small business is nothing like I thought it would be” King said. “Even though I have employees, it’s still my business and, in the end, I am responsible for its success. I find myself doing things like dishes and mopping floors. These are things that I never thought about doing for myself but I find it rewarding and I love it!”