Everyone seems to have one. You’re a teacher, but you tutor on the side. Of course I wash and set sheitels, but let me show you these skin-care products I have. You’d be hard-pressed (wait to you see how punny this one gets) to find one pal who doesn’t have a side business. Such is the tale of Rafi Bondi, who owns The Olive Trading Company (now you can insert your groan). Come along. You know “olive” to tell a good story.
Where do your humble beginnings, um, begin?
I would say my background is pretty typical of a yeshivah guy, and I certainly was more of sports buff than a foodie as a kid. However, I always appreciated high-quality food, and I definitely enjoyed being so close to the kosher restaurant scene. As kosher restaurants became more gourmet and switched from flavored margarine to olive oil, I definitely took note.
How did you find your current biz?
I was looking for a business to do on my own that I would enjoy and find fulfilling. I had experience in marketing, online sales, and importing, so it made sense to use these skills for any new venture. Olive oil was a great area to focus on because there weren’t many high-quality olive oils in the kosher market. It was also a product I felt I could get 100 percent behind because not only does it taste delicious, it’s also extremely healthy.
Did you find learning about an entirely new business that you had zero experience with overwhelming?
Definitely was a steep learning curve! But olive oil is quite fascinating, so I enjoyed that learning experience. I became certified as an olive oil sommelier, which really helped me to understand the industry and build my business with high-quality products.
Was there a lot of competition?
Baruch Hashem, at the time that I started my business there really weren’t any quality extra-virgin olive oils on the kosher market. Since then, there definitely has been some competition, but I view that as an opportunity to educate kosher consumers about the differences and advantages of high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil.
Where do you import most of your oil?
I import from all over the world and different locations in the United States. Olive oil is like wine; the final product is dependent on the location of olive trees. Different soils will give different flavor and nuances to the finished product. My most popular kosher product is actually from Chile — the Alonso brand olive oil. Just to illustrate the point, I import three different varieties, and each has a different taste. There are no additives or flavoring; it’s simply the olive itself that makes a difference. It’s also important to understand that freshness plays a huge role in the process. Extra-virgin olive oil is created from olives within 24 hours of harvest.
What do you attribute the success of your business?
Hashgachah! Hard work, focus, and enthusiasm are all important, but we all know that ultimately Hashem runs the show. When I first started out, a supplier reached out and asked me to give a restaurant owner a significant supply of oil at cost. Although I was hesitant, I figured it would be good way to start off the relationship, so I agreed. Little did I know that this restaurant has a huge social media following, and due to his posts my sales for that olive oil increased immediately.
Pro tip: Many people love their toast with butter or cream cheese. Next time, try some high-quality olive oil on it with a sprinkle of sea salt. You can’t compare the taste!
Rafi in 60 Seconds
Origins: I was born in Baltimore and grew up in Monsey.
The business wouldn’t be the same without: My hand truck. You can’t imagine how many boxes I have to shlep around.
One-man operation: I basically run the entire business myself, from packing to delivering to accounting to marketing.
(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 743)
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