Beverley Street serves as the heart of Downtown Staunton and is, of course, one of the best spots for Traipsing in town. There are puzzles to solve and new things to discover from one end to the other as East Beverley turns into West. Many storefronts may intrigue you, but there’s one with a focus that sounds particularly niche. Through the wide front window, you can see the rows of dark green bottles that line the walls, surrounding long counters in the center of the room that hold rustic metal vats. What’s in these mysterious vats? The answer can be found in the name printed on the very window you peer through: Staunton Olive Oil Company.

When someone enters Staunton Olive Oil Company, they are always warmly greeted by the staff members on the floor. It’s a priority to make visitors feel welcome and cared for. Customers are asked what brought them into the store, if they’ve ever been to a store like it, and if they’re local or just visiting. If interested, they are then walked through a tasting of the products on sale. Staunton Olive Oil Company doesn’t just sell oils, but also unique balsamic vinegars, olive oil’s close friend.

IMG_1725.JPGThe idea was planted when Michelle Gallaugher visited her father in Central Florida in 2013. He had found a shop that she just had to see – it sold only olive oils and vinegars. He thought she should open one just like it and wished he had thought of it himself. At the time, Michelle was a registered nurse and knew nothing about entrepreneurship, much less about olive oil and vinegar. They laughed it off, but the idea never quite slipped away. The Staunton Olive Oil Company opened in July of 2015 and by April 2016, Michelle resigned from her job as a nurse. Though she has had her nursing license for over 20 years (and intends to keep it for the foreseeable future,) the store flourished enough that she decided to take it on full time and devote herself to growing it to its full potential.

A nurse by profession and a caretaker at heart, Michelle embraced the idea of opening a store devoted to selling wholesome products that serve as the foundation for healthy cooking. It came at a time when she was implementing some changes in her own life that promoted healthier eating and fitness; she had gone on the Paleo Diet and started CrossFit. Opening an olive oil store slipped seamlessly into her ideology.

Unfortunately, the Shenandoah Valley doesn’t exactly have the ideal climate for growing good olives. The products come from a California-based company called Veronica Foods which is devoted to producing high-quality olive oils. They take great care to know where their olives come from and make it their mission to maintain close relationships with the farms they’re grown on. They also provide their consumers with the story of their olive oils and a ton of information about how where they grow, how they’re made, and what makes good olive oil.

It’s human nature to come together over food, whether it’s a meal shared between friends and family or a message cooked into a dish made for someone else, a “thank you,” or an “I love you.” “Culturally, we gather in the kitchen,” Michelle says. She comes from a family of strong cooks and has even passed her love of cooking onto her 16-year-old daughter. “I’m truly a foodie at heart,” Michelle says with a smile.

In the kitchen, she defaults to the Garlic and Tuscan Herb Oil, but some of her favorite combinations include the Chipotle Oil and Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar to create a great barbecue flavor. She also likes to match the Persian Lime oil with Cranberry Pear Vinegar. Even so, it’s difficult for Michelle to pick a favorite because she simIMG_1749ply loves to try new things and share her discoveries. The company’s website provides a page where visitors can find some recipes created by Michelle and friends that use oils and vinegars from the store. For example, you can find how to make Michelle’s homemade Chex Mix with her favorite Raspberry/Chipotle combo, which she cannot recommend enough.

Her love for food and her devotion to healthy eating was the easy part. The hard part, of course, was starting a business. She was lucky to have the Downtown Staunton community around her, which has been an essential resource for the growth and development of the company. In June of 2015, Michelle got the opportunity to contend with other local entrepreneurs to win grants to start their businesses in the BRIGHT ReWired competition. She and others looking to grow their small businesses in Staunton participated in an eight-week business planning course and by the end, Michelle was lucky enough to be awarded one of several grants. She received $4,000 from BRIGHT ReWired to fund the start of Staunton Olive Oil Co.

The Staunton community has been a constant gift. The store is continually supported by local customers who are their primary patrons. “Our locals are part of us,” she says. “They are our motivators.”  Michelle and her husband Gary moved to Augusta County from Central Florida ten years ago and ever since, have felt right at home. It’s her hope to be able to give back to the community that helped her build her business while continuing to impact and shape it as well.

In the ten years she’s been in the area, Michelle has watched Downtown Staunton change and transform. She’s seen more stable and diverse businesses expand and grow and has been grateful to be a part of that. The value of that vibrant downtown community has by no means escaped her notice. “Downtowns are a huge lifeline to our history,” Michelle says, and she is honored to be a newer piece of the ever-growing story of Downtown Staunton.

If you decide to make a visit, don’t forget to mention Traipse and solve the puzzle inside the tasting room!

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