Looking back, there have been some pretty evident themes in his life.
The first has to do with his food-centered upbringing. He grew up in the kitchen of his eastern-European grandparents-immigrants to Israel who passed to him their old-world food traditions. Food was always closely connected to people and that’s why the community-connection aspect of what the couple does today as owners of Olive My Pickle is so important.
Second was the experience of military academy, starting at 14 years old, followed by a six-year-career in the Israeli Air Force. Spending so many formative years in a highly systematized and disciplined environment trained him for rigorous and efficient work and gave him the skills he uses to lead his team at Olive My Pickle.
When Tzabari came to the United States in his early 20s to travel and work, the opportunity he saw here awoke his inner entrepreneur-and he hasn’t slept since. Working with his wife, their tireless efforts have paid off as Olive My Pickle has grown to include an office and production facility and five farmers’ markets since launching in 2010. Recognizing their success, the JAX Chamber has named Shai and Charlotte Tzabari as its 2015 Small Business Leaders of the Year.
Olive My Pickle is a natural food company that sells pickles, olives and hummus through Northeast Florida farmers’ markets. It also sells packaged pickled products in natural food grocery stores like Native Sun and soon in Winn-Dixie’s local section.
Shai Tzabari has carried his vision for the company-to be a fun, social company with products that start conversations about healthy living-since its inception. Promoting and networking come naturally to him and he probably hands out at least 50 business cards a week.
The couple wants Jacksonville to be part of the company’s story as it grows regionally and nationally. Their goal is to make the city famous as the Southeast’s artisan food hub, with Olive My Pickle leading the way.
When she’s not working behind the scenes at Olive my Pickle, Charlotte Tzabari is busy as the vice president of sales at Natural Life. Prior to Natural Life, she was the international sales manager at Costa Sunglasses for six years.
A solid resume of experience in the sales and marketing world of lifestyle consumer brands has given her the ability to create, articulate and align the sales, marketing and brand strategies at Olive My Pickle. She’s also an avid consumer of natural foods and products, so the “green” aspect of what the company is about comes from an authentic place.
The JAX Chamber’s recognition of the couple as Small Business Leaders of the Year is a relevant and timely selection because the natural food industry is booming. Inc. magazine recently named it a ‘top 8 industry to start a business in,’ and farmers’ markets have trended up by 100 percent nationally in the past seven years. Also, the local-first/support-small business movement is gaining momentum and everyone on TV seems to be talking about food.
For the Tzabaris and Olive My Pickle, it all started in November 2010. Their plan was to sell bulk olives and pickles from barrels, self-serve style, at local farmers’ markets.
The Jacksonville community quickly embraced them though, and they knew that Olive My Pickle was on to something special. Customers love the social shopping experience at their farmers’ market stand, which is interactive, conversational and fun, they said.
Their set-up involves sampling, tasting and self-service. Customers participate in the process, talking to one another as well as to the Tzabaris. It’s not uncommon for a crowd of people to gather outside their stand to meet, talk and laugh.
Within a year of starting, Olive My Pickle had expanded from a single farmers’ market each week to six, and the company had added two teams to its Saturday schedule. It had also expanded its product line, including through the additions of the Vegan Deli, a selection of hummus and other healthy, whole food snacks.
It was also within that first year that the company developed its barrel logo. The Tzabaris began branding the company through business cards, a graphic-wrapped box truck and market signage as well.
The next couple of years brought amazing growth and self-discovery, the Tzabaris said. They built their website, which included an e-commerce store, and established their purpose by identifying their Mission and Core Values.
Olive My Pickle also picked up several wholesale customers, supplying local restaurants and vendors that had adapted its farmers’ market sales model throughout Florida. In 2014, the company developed its consumer-packaged pickle products and began distributing them locally through Native Sun Natural Food Market. The Tzabaris plan to expand distribution to other regional and national natural food grocery store chains.
Olive My Pickle now has four distinct sales channels: farmers’ markets, bulk wholesale, e-commerce and consumer-packaged pickle products. It has formed a strong company identity and purpose.
The Tzabaris have taken a “small” and “slow” approach to growth. Growth is important but it needs to be healthy and controlled and to happen in complete alignment with Olive My Pickle’s Core Values and Mission. They are not in a hurry to get to the wrong place, they said.
Though it started on a shoestring budget, Olive My Pickle has grown to its present state without any cash infusion from loans, credit lines or private investors. The purchase of big-ticket items or fixed assets, like vehicles, air-conditioning units, a walk-in cooler, a high-resolution printer and label runs, has been completely funded by farmers’ market revenues. If they don’t have the cash, they don’t spend.
The constraint of limited resources these first few years has also been a blessing, the Tzabaris said. Because every purchasing decision forces slow, deliberate consideration, they have largely steered clear of costly mistakes and remain debt free. Perhaps most importantly, proceeding slowly has allowed them to identify the company’s true purpose and priorities, so that they can focus their time, which they deem their most limited resource, on deliberate growth initiatives.
Managing day-to-day operations
Operational discipline is vital in Olive My Pickle’s success. Military academy and a six-year-career career in the Israeli Air Forces installed a level of discipline in Shai Tzabari that is evident in the company’s operational management.
A system of routine checks and checklists maintain structured order, food production, supply rates and equipment maintenance within the workshop. Production schedules and productivity levels are upheld by strict adherence to punctuality, standardized practices and organizational integrity. The overage rates on food production average less than 2 percent weekly and any extra food is donated.
The standard of cleanliness is upheld as sacred. The company’s work space is Florida State Department of Agriculture approved for food production, independent third-party safety inspected and Certified Kosher.
The Olive My Pickle community is every single person, business or organization that the company comes into contact with and connects with on a local, regional, or national level. Approaching these relationships with care and consideration is perhaps the most important “technique” they can master, the Tzabaris said.
The company’s employees are at its community’s core. The Tzabaris hire employees based on their shared values system and commitment to healthy living through fermented, live foods.
Employees are ambassadors of the company’s mission: they educate customers about live-culture foods in a fun, simple and credible way each day at the market. Their goal is to be an employee-owned company, giving shares of the company to those loyal employees that help them build up Olive My Pickle.
The company’s community also includes its customers and they speak with hundreds of them each week. A farmers’ market is a running test market environment and customer feedback continually guides quality improvements, new product development and how they define their brand.
Regardless of their brand’s future reach in the regional and national markets, they will always maintain a local presence at Jacksonville area farmers’ markets. Local customer connection drives so much of their continuous improvement that they consider it a key competitive advantage.
Suppliers and fellow business owners are also part of the company’s community. It maintains a “local first” approach to its supply chain. The Tzabaris especially value the cultivation of relationships within the “green” or “local first” business circles in Jacksonville.
Shai Tzabari attends meetings of the Green Builders’ Council and the company exhibits at the Green Lion Festival. They are also contributing active members of Slow Food First Coast and are proud recipients of the Slow Food Snail of Approval.
Shai Tzabari also sits on the Vendor Advisory Board of the Riverside Arts Market. They are active members of the Jax Chamber, Downtown Council and the Northeast Florida Green Chamber as well. These are just a few examples of how the Tzabaris take part in the collective conversation in the business community.
Connecting through food. Shai Tzabari seems to have arrived at his destiny.
How They Do It
Business planning is important to Jax Chamber Small Business Leaders of the Year Shai and Charlotte Tzabari. Business planning activity at Olive My Pickle takes place in two distinct areas.
- Mission driven, brand-building activity
Local community event participation is intentional brand-building activity that furthers their company’s mission and authenticates their brand.
Their Mission is to spread awareness about gut health. The best way they’ve found to do this is to give people a free pickle on a stick and use that social exchange as an opportunity to talk about what they do.
These events create opportunities for conversation, connection and fun education about fermentation, probiotics and gut health. A byproduct is that people get to know the Olive My Pickle team and then come shop with them at a farmers’ market and become fans and customers.
Examples of recent/upcoming local brand building events include the Natural Life Music Festival, Honeybee Fest, VegFest, Slow Food’s Annual Slow Down events, Green Lion Festival, Porchfest, Gluten & Allergy Free Fest, Gastrofest 2015 and One Spark 2015.
Olive My Pickle recently launched its Kid’s Pickle Club! Its ‘membership card’ for kids is a fun souvenir the kids can present at their farmers’ market stand to get a free pickle on a stick. The club’s purpose is to teach kids (and their parents) about gut health while literally putting probiotics in their bellies. The Tzabari’s eight-year-old son, Noam, is learning entrepreneurship as the Club’s President. He helped art–direct and assist–copy wrote the messaging on the cards. As the Olive My Pickle brand grows beyond Jacksonville, it will bring the club’s message to kids regionally and nationally.
2.Sales driven, channel-building activity
Farmers’ Markets: A handful of nationally distributed natural food companies started at farmers’ markets. In 2014, farmers’ market revenue compromised 80 percent of revenue for OMP. In five years, because of growth and grocery store business, the Tzabaris expect that farmers’ markets will contribute less than 10 percent. However, they won’t stop doing farmers’ markets because of the vital connection to the Jacksonville community they provide.
Bulk wholesale: The company’s bulk wholesale business to local restaurants and other Florida farmers’ market business provides additional revenue and furthers local and regional brand reach. It will continue to grow this quieter channel in response to demand.
E-commerce: Olive My Pickle currently employs SEO (Search Engine Optimization) methods to its website. A full–scale SEM (Search Engine Marketing) plan combined with a comprehensive online marketing campaign anchored by its Brine Life Blog and supported through social media activity (primarily Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) will drive consumer engagement and web store traffic in 2015 and beyond.
Consumer packaged products: This area of our business has the most exciting growth potential, the Tzabaris said. In 2014, they had amazing early success locally at Native Sun, they added.
Words to Live By
Stay fun: When you’re in the olives, pickles and hummus business you just can’t take things too seriously. That means having humor with your hummus, positivity with your pickles and optimism with your olives.
Stay small: Being small is more about attitude than size. Small means we keep total oversight on our business. Small means we don’t let it get away from us or let it go to our heads.
Stay true: This means being open, honest and true in all we do. This standard applies equally to relationships, business and food.
Stay local-first: We help our city be a better place when we keep our revenue dollars in Jax. We access the local supply chain as our first option. When we purchase outside Jacksonville, we buy from independently-owned businesses whenever possible.
Stay grateful: Thank you family for your love. Thank you kids for your patience. Thank you customers for coming out each week in support. Thank you God for the beautiful life.
Company with a Mission
Olive My Pickle defines its mission as follows.
“Our mission is to be a ‘salt of the earth’ company, adding flavor to our community. This means we opt for eye contact, connectedness and conversation with our fellow humans. We choose a path of creativity and adventure and share our stories. We take risks. We try It. We leave idealism on the table.
Further, we are serious about healthy living. Our mission is to spread awareness about gut health in a fun, simple and credible way by first making really good raw-food products with bio-available nutrients & enzymes, live cultures and probiotics and then telling people all about it.
Our Mission drives what we do and our Values drive how we do it.”
A Creative Business Model
Jax Chamber Small Business Leaders of the Year Shai and Charlotte Tzabari are proud to have expanded their successful farmers’ market business into a natural food pickle brand.
Sure, life would have been a lot simpler if they had just been satisfied as a local, Jacksonville farmers’ market institution.
But the Tzabaris saw something more and so they:
1. Identified their company and product strengths and defined their market position.
2. Established their company’s mission and values, creating its purpose in the process and forming the foundation of their brand.
3. Continued to focus on authenticating their brand, otherwise known as ‘walking the walk’, through local community involvement and third-party affiliations and verifications that give their brand credibility in the eyes of the natural food consumers.