The Covid-19 crisis has affected each and every one of us in a very real and personal way. With Claremont being my home and community, I can’t help but wonder (and worry!) how the local businesses, that are the heart and soul of this community, are holding up. What conversations are family businesses having around the dinner table? Are they contemplating closing their doors for good? Has anything positive come out of this devastating crisis? I reached out to a local family business in Claremont, We Olive & Wine Bar, a specialty wine and olive oil shop that also offers dine-in service, to get answers and capture their story through this crisis.
I sat with the owners of We Olive Ann and Vicky (also sisters!) to get a glimpse of their journey and was quite relieved it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Yes, it’s been an uphill battle adapting to the mandated changes, however they told inspiring stories about the community coming together to support their business. Not only that, they described acts of compassion and kindness towards small businesses like theirs. The compassion and humility from the community was the exact antidote needed for the owners of We Olive to keep pushing forward. This is their story . . .
Adapting to the Closure of Dine-In Service
When Ann and Vicky received the news in March that dine-in service was no longer an option, it was the beginning of a journey through the unknown. “In the beginning we were optimistic in our thinking that the closure would last a few weeks to a month but the situation kept declining,” Vicky shared. Initially when the closure was mandated, they kept their kitchen open for curbside pickup for a brief period but it quickly became clear that it was not sustainable since people were ordered to stay at home. “It was sad and hard for us to tell our employees there was no more work. We cleared out all the food from our kitchen and unplugged the appliances,” said Ann.
From March until June, only Ann and Vicky operated the front of the store every day to sell their retail goods (i.e., wine, beer, olive oils, vinegar) to regulars and customers passing by. “It was strange seeing so many open parking spots in Claremont Village and no one on the streets or sidewalk. I almost expected a tumbleweed to pass through,” Vicky reflected lightheartedly (it gave us a good chuckle, too!). It was during this time they began to experience tremendous support from the community and their regulars which they both described as the best thing that came out of the crisis.
Heartwarming Support from the Community
“The most positive change has come from the community and customers because it made us feel like we matter,” said Vicky. The owners described Claremont during quarantine as being a ghost town. “People would walk by our store and see us inside and immediately light up! They would come in just to say ‘hi’ just to speak to another person. We’d chat for a half hour, they’d buy something, and thank us for being open.” Everyday a situation like that would occur multiple times and they realized it was because it gave others a sense of normalcy. “Thank you for being open” is what they would hear every day.
Ann and Vicky were particularly touched by their regulars who would sometimes stop by 3-4 times a week just to support their store. “We are coming in here because we want to support your business,” is what the owners would hear from regulars and first time customers. Even local merchants purchased wine orders to lend support. “There were customers who left additional tips, would not take their change, refused to take discounts, and even made donations,” said owners Ann and Vicky. A rush of warm feelings came over me as they described the support and compassion they experienced because I was touched to hear of something positive that came from this ever so looming crisis.
Receiving Last Minute News
When the news came in for LA County to re-open dine service, it was with only one week’s notice. “We were notified one week before that dine-in would be opening up again but we had no employees or food in the fridge,” owner Ann reflects. They immediately called their servers who were excited at the prospect of coming back. “I was excited because it gave me a sense of normalcy to start working again,” said Natalie, the kitchen lead at We Olive.
"It felt a bit daunting with the new guidelines, but we worked our way through them, met with our little staff of two and learned new behaviors, routines, protocols," Ann commented. With staff and new protocols in place, We Olive reopened their doors for dine-in on Thursday, June 4th. “Our customers were so gracious when we re-opened. They were understanding when we didn’t have the full menu in stock because they were happy to just be out of the house,” Natalie and Terri, the lead waitress, explained as they sat with me to give me their experience on the re-opening.
What to Expect When Visiting We Olive
“It’s safe. It’s sanitized. Come in and expect to enjoy yourself,” Ann and Vicky said very warmly when asked what current/future customers can expect. Their staff is knowledgeable and considerate of the CDC protocols and their priority is for customers to feel safe while enjoying their time at We Olive. “We want customers to know we are following every possible protocol to make sure our customers are safe and comfortable. We also have outdoor seating on our comfy outdoor patio!”
Their cozy outdoor space is has recently been updated with misters so you can feel even more comfortable sitting outside. Outdoor tables have also been added to the front of the store so now customers can take in the iconic view of Yale Avenue. There is limited seating so be sure to call and make reservations ahead of time to secure your spot.
When visiting We Olive you can expect to be right smack in the heart of Claremont Village on Yale Avenue. If you’re dining here, be sure to build your own olive oil flight and/or wine flight. Their prepared food uses the same ingredients sold in their retail shop. You’ll find they carry unique flavors of olive oils and vinegar like jalapeno, white peach, blood orange, Meyer lemon, and champagne mimosa. They will even go as far as recommending a recipe if you don’t know how to incorporate a specific oil or vinegar. Expect the staff to be committed to excellent customer service because their #1 goal is to make you feel safe and comfortable while you enjoy your visit.
Fun tidbit: they incorporate their Champagne Mimosa Balsamic Vinegar into a glass of sparkling wine and, believe me, you’ll want to try it because it’s phenomenal!
Learn more about We Olive & Wine Bar below. If you choose to visit, tell them Miss Claremont sent you 😉
Photo Credit: Photos provided by We Olive Owners. Additional photos taken by the owner of this blog.