Perry Rea visited his parents in Arizona and fell in love with the slew of olive trees growing near their home.
“We went back to Bloomfield Hills,” Rea says about the Michigan town in which he lived. “We were at an Irish pub and my wife looked at me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we make extra virgin olive oil in Arizona?’”
That simple question eventually led to the now-successful Queen Creek Olive Mill, which was founded by retired automotive parts Chief Executive Officer Rea and his wife, Brenda, in 2005. They packed up their four kids — and one on the way — 23 years ago.
“Our business model is agrotourism or ‘agrotainment,’” Rea says. “We’re a farm, and our tagline is ‘from blossom to bottle.’”
Rea doesn’t solely categorize his business as a farm or a restaurant. Rather, he calls it “an experience” that involves people “coming here to learn everything about extra virgin olive oil. We’re making an overall presentation of what extra virgin olive oil is.”
The Queen Creek location houses the olive mill farm. Staff works there, too, packing products while guests shop in the market. Dining and events are hosted outside.
Tours of the grounds are available. Rea’s staff show how the company makes its olive oils, balsamic vinegars and other products.
“Everything is from scratch,” Rea says. “We try to grow as much as we can that we serve to people or that we put in our olive oil and our vinegars.”
Eight years ago, Rea expanded his company by opening a store within the Marketplace at Kierland Commons.
“I would have to say (the Scottsdale location) is an olive oil-vinegar marketplace on steroids because it has everything that we have (in Queen Creek), including all of our local products and a full range of wines,” Rea says. “It’s a fun little experience, too.”
Queen Creek Olive Mill sells an abundance of olive oils, vinegars, stuffed olives, tapenades, sauces and pantry items, as well as bath and body products called Olivespa, created by Brenda.
“It’s a cool product line, too, and it’s one of the fastest-growing segments on our business — it’s bath and body products,” Rea says. “Starting in October, we are going to open our first Olivespa store in the Epicenter at Agritopia in Gilbert.”
Olivespa’s products range from face oils and olive oil soaps to lip and foot balms, as well as dog shampoo.
“Her body oils and her face oils are very popular,” Rea says. “Everything is made with high polyphenol olive oil, so it’s very healthy products.”
The No. 1 seller is the extra virgin olive oil, “followed closely by our balsamic vinegars that we craft here in Arizona,” according to Rea.
“Things like our fig balsamics and strawberry balsamics (come second),” Rea says. “The extra virgin olive oils are always No. 1, followed by the Meyer lemon olive oil and the garlic olive oil — things that are very useful in the kitchen and are easy to use.”
Rea’s personal favorite is the robust olive oil that gives off a “nice peppery, grassy flavor, and it’s made with primarily green olives, so it’s a really nice oil.”
“When it comes to my vinegars, I would have to say my favorite — believe it or not, but — my white balsamic,” Rea says. “I know it doesn’t sound quite that exciting, but it’s a really good complementary product when you are making a salad dressing.
“When it comes to something more fun, I would probably have to say my habanero from Hell Stuffed Olives.”
Since opening in 2005, Rea says one of the toughest parts about being in the agrotourism industry is “listening to your customer and understanding your business.”
“Everything is hard, but you have to understand what you are doing and understand what the end results need to be, and you got to have fun doing it,” Rea says.
“My favorite part about being in this industry is just watching people come here, and they walk up to me and they say, ‘Wow, this is so neat.’ That’s just very fulfilling.”
From COVID-19 to the future
While several businesses closed arounds the world, Queen Creek Olive Mill stayed open after slightly pivoting in mid-March.
“Because we were categorized as a gourmet grocer, we were allowed to stay open,” Rea says. “We started to bring in bulk flour, bulk eggs, bulk rice, beans, all kinds of things, and putting them in smaller packages, and we started selling that.
“We morphed into a little bit of a grocery store with everything that people were looking for but couldn’t find.”
Rea considers himself lucky because nearby residents were sticking around, so the business flourished last year. He attributes that, as well, to the increase of rooftops around Queen Creek. In the next 18 months, Rea hopes to expand the mill to make it “a little more customer friendly.”
“We’ve been very fortunate, and we continue to be very fortunate,” he says.
As mask mandates diminish and COVID-19 cases subside, Rea hopes to bring back popular festivals celebrating the corn season and the garlic week in September around harvesting season.
“I guess the biggest thing is that we are going to get back to where we were before, running smaller festivals so we can have a crowd come in, although we still have a ton of crowds coming in, so I’m not too worried,” Rea says.
Queen Creek Olive Mill
25062 S. Meridian Road, Queen Creek
7122 E. Greenway Parkway, Suite 120, Scottsdale