Originally published in Arkadia magazine, September 2014.
The Olives Et Al story is 21 years old this year, dating back to a time when Captain Henschel became, simply, Giles again and set off in search of adventure, with his wife-to-be Annie, on ‘his and hers’ motorbikes. They planned to ride around the Mediterranean and North Africa and did just that for 12 months, before returning home to a Southampton bedsit where they found themselves with nothing but a diary of their travels, a book full of recipes collected along the way and their heads full of enough wonderful memories to last them a lifetime.
Those memories soon drove them to recreate the recipes they had brought home with them and, before long, Giles and Annie found themselves behind a stand at the Rural Living Show, selling jars of olives inspired by their Mediterranean travels. The date was 28 October 1993 and that fledgling business was what we now know as Olives Et Al.
Being the first company to bring olives to the provinces, suddenly Olives Et Al was leading the artisan, speciality food movement, heavily influencing the popularity of not just olives but Mediterranean food in general. They had become ambassadors for the humble olive, making it accessible, beyond the boundaries of London, to discerning consumers countrywide and the numerous shows attended around the country acted as their pop-up shops, allowing them to spread the word about Mediterranean food and Olives Et Al, which soon became synonymous with one another.
Since those early days, Olives Et Al has continued to grow, year on year, but with business values built around the hospitality and warmth that Giles and Annie experienced on their trips abroad, the business retains a local feel and a sense of pride that insists on artisan food with a delicate touch – there are no over-engineered offerings here, in fact, OEA’s top sellers today, their ‘Sunshine’, ‘Moorish’ and ‘Classic’ olives, are the same as they were back in 1993. Another vital part of Olives Et Al’s identity is its dry humour. You’ll find examples everywhere, from its witty advertising, to the branding of offspring products, such as Captain Tiptoes Badger Sauce, which contains no badger but does contain references to both Giles’ and Annie’s former careers.
Giles’ main focus and drive has always been looking after the business and taking it to the next level, and you can tell that he still craves adventure by the way the business is re-invented every seven years. Olives Et Al’s 21st year is no exception and has already seen the launch of Loaf & Larder, OEA’s gorgeous new deli, at Cheddar Garden Centre. Loaf & Larder offers the finest locally sourced produce, ready for you to take away and combine to make the perfect meal. Perusing the shelves is like looking at the menu of a restaurant that has no tables – a concept that is proving to be extremely popular with customers at Cheddar and, with a Loaf & Larder planned for Aylesbury and another in the pipeline, a concept that, like Olives Et Al itself, is set to become more than just a local phenomenon.
With his enthusiasm running as high now as it was 21 years ago, who knows where Giles will lead Olives Et Al in the seven years to come. The natural progression would be for Loaf & Larder to take on the High Street, as an artisan restaurant, tempting passers-by with the irresistible flavours of the Mediterranean. Watch this space – it is amazing how far you can travel, given another seven years!
The journey that Giles and Annie embarked upon 21 years ago was never going to be just about the bike ride – the whole 21 years has been a journey. And if you’re wondering what happened to those motorbikes that were so important to the start of this story – the same bikes are taxed and insured and ready to go – this journey isn’t over yet!