When Bryan Saba bought Big Paw Olive Oil Company in 2007—after seeing a listing on Craigslist—the 59-year-old software/technical engineering consultant was simply looking for a hobby. Little did Saba know, running an olive oil business would become his strongest passion. The family-owned business—run by Saba’s wife, Susan, and their two children, along with friend Neal Butterfield—has given Saba a sense of palpable anticipation for what is to come.
“I can’t wait to see what happens with Big Paw in the next couple of years,” Saba says. “This year it’s all about marketing. We want to drive as much business as we can to our website (bigpawsales.com) by meeting locals and having direct customer contact.”
Big Paw Olive Oil was already an established brand when Saba bought the company 10 years ago. The original owner came up with the name after his dog, Tio, chased a rabbit into a field filled with sage. Intrigued, the owner—who was a sommelier—washed and rinsed the sage before infusing it with olive oil.
The sommelier gave away baskets of olive oil, starting the seed for the business. Big Paw Olive Oil sells more than 30 different varieties of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, balsamic vinegar and dipper/dressing/marinade. Some of the company’s signature products include the La Rusticana d’Orsa 100 Percent Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Spaghetti Western Bread Dipper and Pizzeria Dipper.
The La Rusticana d’Orsa is an early harvest varietal that comes from the 300 trees located in the La Rusticana Vineyards in Los Gatos. It is a Tuscan blend of five different olives, with an aroma of cherries and cocoa that taste clean on the palette. Big Paw Olive Oil’s balsamic vinegars are infused with the ripest, freshest fruits that are picked at their peak.
The Spaghetti Western Bread Dipper is a balsamic vinegar mixed with gorgonzola cheese, oregano, pickled garlic, brown sugar and sea salt. The Pizzeria Dipper is infused with garlic, Italian herbs and sea salt. The dippers taste great on salads and breads while doubling as a marinade.
“If you have chicken or a tri-tip, put them in a Ziploc bag with the marinade and let them sit overnight,” Saba says. “It’s fantastic.”
Big Paw Olive Oil has something for everyone, with a dry steak rub and a variety of olive oil flavors, including lemon, garlic, rosemary, orange and white sage. Some of the unique balsamic vinegar products the company carries include cherry, mission fig, apricot, peach, pomegranate, blackberry vanilla and blue moon, a barrel aged concoction with a full body and complex flavors.
Saba uses olives from three small family-owned farms in Dinuba, Modesto and Corning, the latter being the self-proclaimed olive capital of the world. The olives are cold-pressed from pedigreed California olives which have been certified by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). Saba knows at some point it would behoove the company to purchase its own olive trees.
“If we have our own trees and olive oil, that will position us better in farmers markets and be a great marketing tool,” he says.
By the time Saba bought Big Paw Olive Oil, it was an established brand with a solid customer base. Since then, he has expanded the customer base, as Big Paw’s products are featured in farmers markets throughout the Bay Area. Saba eventually set up shop in Campbell, but by February 2016 he had to make a move due to rising rent costs. That’s when Big Paw Olive Oil shipped its headquarters to Hollister.
“We needed to find a place to accommodate what we wanted to do—to set up shop and be a local presence in Hollister,” says Saba, who lived in Saratoga for 22 years before moving to Hollister. “This was not only a great family move, but a great business move. We couldn’t have picked a better place—knock on wood—because we’re heading in the right direction.”
Saba’s ultimate goal is making the ranch a “Busch Gardens of olive oil,” a place where people gather for a day or days at a time. Saba envisions olive oil tastings on his property, festive parties and barbecues, along with a food truck event day, just to name a few. He also wants to find a great business model where delivering olive oil to people’s homes is both practicable and sustainable.
Due to costs and competition, running an olive oil business is not for the faint of heart.
“The first year it was a struggle,” Saba says. “But we have so much growth still left that I’m super excited and comfortable with what we’re doing going forward.”
Big Paw Olive Oil is available at farmers markets in Hollister and throughout the Bay Area. Products can also be purchased at Benito Bene in Hollister as well as Whole Foods Markets.