Olive Fantastic is my first blog, and I’m proud of it.
Although, I started my olive oil / gourmet food career nearly 10 years ago with a company I left to pursue greater opportunities, and a better life. My first experience in the gourmet food world started with Lucero Olive Oil. The idea for the company literally started on a white napkin while sitting at my parents dining room table when I told them I wanted to try selling bottles of my dad’s and grandpa’s oil. I worked out a few numbers with a pen on the white napkin and saw how much I could make selling a few bottles of extra virgin olive oil (evoo). Was it realistic….no! But, it did start me down a path that I will never regret, and one that I have a lot of passion for: California Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Gourmet Food and the Marketing and Sales strategies that go with it. I founded and incorporated Lucero Olive Oil in December 2005, I actually almost called it Lucero’s Olive Oil with an apostrophe, but made one of my first major marketing decisions, when I decided not to, and made it just Lucero Olive Oil. I felt Lucero’s made it sound like it was a small mom and pop operation, running out of our garage! Ha Ha, which it was, to be honest, because I did start the company in my parents garage in Corning, but I grew it into what I had dreamed it could be over 8 years. Lucero grew into a sizeable company and a leader in the California olive oil industry. For me, “Lucero” had a more professional feel and sound, maybe bigger than it really was, polished, and I liked it. “Lucero Olive Oil” seemed more serious and brand right. Of course, it helped that it was my last name. At the time, it was a gut feeling, to be honest, and I’m able to analyze it better now that I’m looking back 9 years with more experience. The other thing I did right off the bat was hand-draw the very first logo I ever used, which I turned into three labels. All were extra virgin olive oils: Ascolano, Manzanillo, and Mission, because these were the varieties that my dad and grandpa grew, so they were the only olives I could get at the time.
I told my dad and grandpa what I wanted to do, and they thought I was crazy. However I did eventually convince my parents to support me by taking out a $50K loan to get my company started, and they also re-modeled their shop to include a bottling room and storage room for Lucero Olive Oil, it seriously was a combined 600 sqft, with a pass-through window, and one air conditioner. I would spend hours upon hours out there. The company ran like this for nearly 4 yrs. I lived in Rocklin, by Roseville (the whole time I was at Lucero), so I had a two-hour commute one-way (110 miles exactly), which I typically only did once a week and stayed with my parents a couple nights while in Corning (thank you mom and dad! Taco night every Tuesday!). If it were not for this setup, with my parents, and my wife putting up with me being gone, Lucero Olive Oil would not be here today, and it would have never seen success.
The first 4 years were brutal. I attended every festival, farmers market and tasting event I possibly could. I would do the whole event by myself. Many were two and three day events, and it was exhausting. If I was lucky, I was able to get my wife, brother and sister out there, but they quickly grew to harbor unfavorable thoughts about these festivals as a worker, instead of enjoying them as a customer. One year they helped me with the Mt. Mandarin Festival in Auburn (a really great local event), and it turned out to be a very cold weekend… and wet. It actually snowed one night too, that’s how cold it was! So spending the day in the cold, with a wet soggy ground did not go over well. We often talk about it still today, but now with smiles and lots of laughing. I remember many events driving in late to setup at night, because I had just finished bottling all the product I was going to sell at the event, just hours before.
I handled most bottling, with the help of my mom, dad, brother, grandpa, and on occasions for large orders, I hired some of my mom’s past students to help. It was a team effort and a lot of work. What made it even more challenging was that I had decided to put black wax over the tops of each bottle (it looked beautiful, but was harder than hell to get off)…so each bottle had to be dipped in wax! OMG that was time consuming! There were issues of bubbling and the bar-top-cork wanting to pop out of the bottle because it was so hot from the wax. Eventually we learned to quickly dip the bottles in the wax, then right into an ice bath to avoid these issues, but look at the time this all took, and resources. I even went as far as putting small pieces of plastic wrap over each waxed top, to avoid finger prints…I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Now looking back, I can’t believe I did all these things! I also had to choose the most expensive bottle I possibly could from a very high-end bottle manufacture, Saver Glass out of Napa. The bottle I chose was the Fidji, it was meant for high-end Vodka to be honest, but I loved it, and bought a pallet of the 500ML and 375ML. The 500ML alone was over $2/bottle! Compared to the Dorica bottle you can buy almost anywhere these days at $0.40/bottle. I also purchased a 200ML bottle, called the Bellissima from them, which was a beautiful round bottle. They were all clear glass, so the oil looked beautiful in them, I didn’t know at the time that dark glass would help protect the oil, I just loved the look. I later moved into a round Kendo bottle with no price savings, which they made in a small 50ML I used for many years in gift sets. Very cute bottle, but again, very expensive, they were $0.46/bottle! Wow, looking back, many things I did were just crazy, but I didn’t know any better, and in many ways they helped me create a high-end successful company, and one of the strongest brands in the industry worldwide. I just didn’t know it at the time. I’d like to think these innocent mistakes were part of a much bigger plan, a destiny that I didn’t know about at the time.
In 2009, I was at a point of needing to go to the next level, and I knew it would take seed money, which I didn’t have. I didn’t know where that would come from, so I started talking, and I’d talk to anyone who’d listen. Then one day after a discussion about olives and olive oil with a large corporation in Corning who was in the timber business, and also farming, I found interest. Crane Mills Corporation became Lucero Olive Oil’s investor. At that point a lot happened, that took a lot of money of course. We installed a 5 ton per hour Westfalia olive mill brand new from Germany, and remodeled a 10,000 sqft warehouse to fit our needs, to include cold storage, a bottling room, shipping area, gift box area and an area visitors could view production on tours of the facility. A new tasting room was designed and built, then two more, one in Oregon then another in Napa. The website was updated, along with all festival equipment. Employees were hired, more equipment was purchased to include an $18K laser to etch the best by date, lot code, bottle date and anything else we wanted on our bottles. Things were really humming by 2013 with sales in the multi-millions. As compared to my first year of sales, which were $50K, and no salary. I calculated once that during the first 4 years, I took home roughly $38K in salary, thanks to my wife, who is a Math Professor at Sierra College in Rocklin, she brought home enough for us to live on for all those years, while I built Lucero Olive Oil. Side Note: Thank you Katie! I love you for believing in me.
So yes, I literally spent hours and hours building Lucero Olive Oil, with blood sweat and tears. I worked 12-17 hours day-in and day-out for nearly 9 years, as I like to say “I just outworked many of my competitors,” and in the end I had built one of the greatest olive oil brands in California, maybe the world. By 2014 I had won more awards than any other olive oil producer/taster since starting Lucero in 2005, with over 240 awards. This was a key ingredient in putting Lucero on the map.
In late 2014 I decided for various reasons that I was going to move on and expand from Lucero Olive Oil, and I sold my 50% ownership to Lucero’s investors, Crane Mills Corp. I nor my family are involved any longer.
After leaving Lucero Olive Oil I found a great opportunity to be a part of a small company out of Stockton, Bozzano Olive Ranch, and help grow their company to a high-end gourmet organic olive oil producer – now my specialty and niche passion! Bozzano is in their 8th year, they started their company just a year after I had started Lucero. They have their own olive mill, 2.5 ton/hr Westfalia machine, which was the second mill I crushed on when starting Lucero, and the reason I ended up buying the 5 ton/hr machine. They make great evoo, have won many awards over the years, and I was friends with Joe, the son of Jack Bozzano, the owner. The best thing about Bozzano is that the majority of their oils are certified organic, and they are truly 1 of 3 companies in the State that can supply anyone with a significant volume of organic evoo. The thing was, they were not maximizing this as a selling point, so I wanted to change that.
The first thing I did with Bozzano was rebrand them using the same designer, Bruce Hale, that I had used at Lucero Olive Oil. He’s amazing, and I’ll write more about Bruce in future blogs, but he’s one of the best in world, bar none. With the help of Bruce, I rebranded them strongly as an organic grower/miller/producer, that is why the logo has “Organic” right over the top of Bozzano Olive Ranch. This was key, very intentional, and a game changer for them. Plus their new labels kick’d ass! Some of the best branding I think Bruce has ever done, the farmer is so iconic. There was a lot done in addition to this to help Bozzano get on the road of becoming a leading California evoo brand, and even more so, a leading gourmet food brand, and here are a few of those. The website was completely overhauled and a new one was built from scratch (I actually took on the challenge of doing this, even taking the pictures we used). I built it on Shopify, which I have turned out to really like. I created a new line of organic flavored oils and organic balsamic vinegars to enhance and strengthen the brand. On top of that, I increased prices across the board, because they made great oil, award-winning, and they needed to see that hard work result in more cash in their pocket. So we increased prices on all their bulk sales, wholesale sales and retail prices per bottle. They were nervous, sweating bullets, I had many conversations with Jack about it, but I knew it was the right way to take them from my past experience, and my gut said to keep pushing forward with all these drastic changes for them. I also overhauled all their marketing, pr and social media. Making it about them, the Bozzano family, their history as farmers, and the fact that they are the growers/millers/producers and certified 100% organic. Check out their website here to see their new look and product lines: www.bozzanoranch.com. You can checkout their Facebook page here: Bozzano Facebook, and Instagram here: Bozzano Instagram. The Bozzanos are a great 4th generations family, running their business for 23 yrs now, because just across from the olive mill is their first business Quality Packing & Shipping, where they also pack fresh organic cherries, and I love cherries! After a year at Bozzano, they have become the most awarded organic producer in the State, their sales are up 140%, with great potential down the road now that the new organic flavored oils and balsamics are available in bottles. They are going into a new harvest season, and the momentum has been built, so it will be exciting to see where Bozzano goes from here.
The Bozzano experience ultimately got my entrepreneurial juicing going again, and when I get going, it’s hard to stop. So now I’m setting off on my own path to create this blog, and to also start a new high-end food company. I’m doing it again, and I’m going to do it better than I ever have before, that’s my mantra, and that’s my goal. I’ll still be involved with the Bozzano’s, and most likely they will be crushing olives for me down the road, and bottling many of my products as I roll out this new brand. I’ll keep you posted as things progress forward, so for now, let this be a teaser. In the meantime I’m going to build this blog, and make “Olive Fantastic” a place to learn about extra virgin olive oil, enjoy my gourmet food experiences, and be a resource for anyone building a gourmet food brand, because although many of my experiences are in olive oil, at the end of the day, it’s a gourmet food brand, and I understand this language well. I know it can be applied to anything gourmet. I’m very confident about this.
My goal for Olive Fantastic is to have fun, be a true benefit to as many as possible and to educate. With that, here is my blog!
– Dewey Lucero –
Entrepreneur – Gourmet Foodie – Award winning Olive Oil Taster – Dad, Husband & Lover of all things Fantastic!
Read more ABOUT me (HERE)