By Daphne Jackson
Valley residents craving a taste of something fresh will enjoy the new line of food products at a local Hamilton store.
Robbins on Main recently expanded to sell gourmet olive oils and vinegars from Bozeman company Olivelle. Shop owner Bunny Robbins said she had been thinking about taking this step for some time, but waited because of the financial investment and the amount of setup required to clear space for and set up the display of heavy containers of oil.
“I called four different kitchen stores that have this, to see how it was, and they said, ‘oh, you absolutely have to have it,’ so that was a lot of confirmation,” she said. “And then customers kept saying ‘you really need this line,’ so that’s how come I called them up, and said ‘okay.’ I wanted to do it before Christmas, but we couldn’t get it in, because I didn’t have a counter to put it on.”
Robbins said Olivelle’s cofounder, Brie Thompson, imports the olive oils from Italy, and then infuses them with flavors. Robbins said she chose which flavors to offer based on requests from some of her customers who have had Olivelle products shipped to them.
“Brie, who does this in Bozeman, she’s one of the 30 official olive oil tasters in the world, so she knows what she’s doing,” Robbins said. “She and her mom used to have the olive oil and vinegar franchise in Bozeman, and there was one here in Missoula, but I think they went out of business in Montana. And she already knew more than they did about olive oil, so she started her own.
She came home from a gourmet show in New York, and loaded her van up with our order and brought it over and gave us five hours of training.”
Now, Robbins said, she is already thinking about ways to increase the variety of olives offered.
“I can tell we need four more already, four more containers, but then, now we have to figure out where we’re going to put them,” she said.
Robbins said she and her husband have been running businesses in Hamilton since 1982, when they started as a book and office supply store.
“It was called Robbins’ Book Store and Office Supply, and we had Hallmark, and Kodak, and things like that,” she said. “When I moved in here (Robbins on Main), a whole bunch of other stores moved at the same time too, so Chapter One bought all my books, the Paper Clip bought all my office supplies, and later I moved Hallmark over there, and went for the big kitchen stuff.”
The oils and vinegars are sold in differently sized bottles that are exchanged with each subsequent purchase. Tony Dees, Robbins’ husband, said each of the bottles costs the same amount during the initial purchase, and it costs nothing for an exchanged bottle, regardless of what size is chosen.
“You don’t even have to clean the bottles,” he said. “Just bring them back, get a refill, upgrade to a larger bottle at the same cost, no need to keep with the same flavor or the same bottle.”
Dees said many of the store’s customers have come in looking for the oil after tasting it during meals at friends’ houses.
“They go to somebody’s house, and they’re like ‘okay, I went to this house, and I had this, and I need this’ because they’re tasting it,” he said. “It makes a beginner cook a good cook, it makes a good cook a great cook. With no effort or work, the flavors themselves, it changes your way of eating.”
Some of the store’s other products from Olivelle include gift sets, prepared oil and vinegar combinations, spice collections and salts. Although nearly all the oils on tap are varieties of olive oil, the shop sells grapeseed oil as well.
Dees said many people use the oils as a healthier alternative to other types of oil, such as butter.
“The grapeseed, a lot of people think grapeseed is only for high temperature cooking, and that’s incorrect,” he said. “Actually, grapeseed replaces butter in all your cooking. So, if you’re making, let’s say a cake, and it takes two cups of butter, you use two cups of grapeseed oil and it’s healthier for you. It is for your high temperature cooking… any of your olive oils that you cook with, not just what we sell, it’s low to medium heats is what you cook it on. Grapeseed can be cooked at higher temperature, medium to high. It’s just what it’s made of, kind of like your corn oils and all that, it’s a higher temperature oil, but grapeseed’s healthier than your corn oils.”
Robbins said there are a lot of unexpected ways to use the oils and vinegars, from popping popcorn to flavoring ice cream. She said the store does have recipe cards to serve as a starting point, but that it is easy to combine the flavors well.
“Anything that sounds good to you that you mix together, for a salad dressing, is good,” Robbins said. “Whatever sounds good to you, anything goes together.”
Dees said a lot of the customers who buy Olivelle products choose to shop in this store because they appreciate the personal attention that comes along with each purchase.
“They like the TLC about it, versus going to the store, and ‘here’s a bottle of olive oil or vinegar,’ and you just buy it and cash out and go home. They like the TLC and the camaraderie,” he said. “And then we remember them, and they come back in, and we’re like, ‘okay, what did you think of that sundried tomato?’ ‘oh, I loved it,’ and they love that you remember that. That’s part of being in a small town.”
Robbins said she enjoys running the store primarily because of the people she gets to meet in the process.
“Some people just come in here for their lunch hours, just to calm down and listen to the music and just look at things,” she said. “The interaction between their happy times and their sad times, it’s all good. We get their deaths, and their happy days. We take it all to heart, what they say, and I think that’s why we’re here.”
Robbins on Main is located at 209 W. Main St. in Hamilton, and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays.