Vita Sana's new owner a familiar face
Wednesday was VanVleck’s first day as the new owner, and she’s excited to reassure customers the store will continue to carry the high-quality olive oils it’s known for, along with new gourmet foods and teas.
“I’m excited for the opportunity that I’ve been given and then that we’ve had such great support from our customers,” VanVleck said. “We’re here for the long haul. We don’t plan on changing our oil and vinegar. Customers can rest assured that somebody who knows the products is still here and still sticking with the mission to supply the ever-expanding downtown Rapid City with the best products that we can.”
VanVleck worked for six years as the store’s business manager. When her parents, Charles and Merry Jane Walsh of Casper, Wyo., decided to sell the store, VanVleck started hunting for another job. In a competitive job market, she ultimately couldn’t find one that paid well and was a good fit. VanVleck opted to put her degrees in marketing and communication and business to use by purchasing the store in September.
“I grew up in an entrepreneurial household and so I was raised and taught everything that I could have been taught to be successful for this position,” VanVleck said. “It was culmination of my childhood that led me to know that I can do it.”
“We feel great about our exit, knowing we are leaving the business, and its wonderful customers, in highly respected, qualified hands,” Charles Walsh said.
Though VanVleck is introducing Stonewall Kitchen jams and sauce mixes, and Adagio loose-leaf teas to the store, the heart of the business will remain high-quality olive oils and Modena Italy balsamic vinegars and specialty oils.
“Basically, the biggest thing is our oil and vinegar supplier (Veronica Foods of Oakland, Calif.) will never change because they supply the best there is,” VanVleck said. “They’re a third-generation Italian family. They’ve done this for over 100 years. They’ve perfected this. … They’re family-owned and operated and they want (their customers) to be successful.”
Veronica Foods olive oils are imported seasonally, based on the crush date of the olive, from all over the world.
Even her husband, David, who VanVleck said prefers simpler meat and potatoes fare, now enthusiastically tries the oils and vinegars. The couple’s son, Westin, 6, is being introduced to it as well.
“People like the quality and unique offerings we have. They’ve come to know it and appreciate it. … You can taste the difference,” VanVleck said. “It adds so much flavor to simple items.”
VanVleck is hosting special events throughout December to encourage customers to sample products and do some holiday shopping at Vita Sana. This Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Vita Sana will host a wine tasting with Okoboji Wines. A wine tasting with Cask & Cork Distributing will be Dec. 11.
“When you come in, it’s all about the experience. You’re learning, you’re tasting and you’re experiencing a whole new world,” she said. “People get their holiday shopping done and learn about the products. They’re tasting wines before they take them to a holiday party or give them as gifts.”
On Dec. 18, Vita Sana is partnering with Black Hills Contraband Distillery for a special sampling event, including tastings of a custom vinegar and bourbon.
VanVleck plans to bring back cooking classes, and she hopes to partner with other local businesses and experts for special events and classes about the benefits of good-quality olive oil and other Vita Sana products.
“In the new year, we are going to start reaching out to see what we can create that is unique and relevant for our customers,” VanVleck said. “We’ve always strived to teach our customers before we sell. We want you to be educated about why you should choose our products. Giving people knowledge has always been a goal of ours.”
Vita Sana Olive Oil Company is located at 627 St. Joseph St. The store’s holiday hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. In January, the store will resume its regular hours and will be closed on Sundays. For more information, go to vitasanaoliveoil.com.
Vita Sana Olive Oil Company
By Malissa Greenwood
Photography by Jeremy Thies
For a little over two years Vita Sana Olive Oil Company has been providing Natrona County a unique assortment of oils and vinegars from around the world. Focused on freshness and chemistry, owners Charles and Merry Jane Walsh offer patrons an exclusive “taste first, bottled to order” experience.
Vita Sana carries about 50 oils and balsamic vinegars year round. Stored wall to wall in Fusti’s (Italian Steel drums) to prevent oxygen and light from coming in, the products are ready and waiting to be discovered, tasted, and compared all before you purchase.
The olive oils sold at Vita Sana are 100% Extra Virgin, unfiltered, and uncut. Blessed with the best supplier in the world, Vita Sana carries oils that only a handful of other stores around the world would have – including a variety of flavor fused and infused oils.
“Our goal is to have the freshest Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOOs) in house at all times,” says Charles.
And because they bring in oil from all over the world, they’re continuously receiving fresh products throughout the year. “The southern hemisphere (Australia, Peru, Chili) produces six months opposite of the northern hemisphere (Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, California.”
While the oils are the freshest of their kind, the balsamic vinegars are produced in Modena, Italy and aged up to 18 years in wooden barrels. Free from preservatives and additives, Vita Sana provides incredibly diverse vinegars to be paired with the oils or used alone for an abundance of purposes.
Personally, aside from salad and bread, I had never considered what other uses one might have for balsamic vinegar. Charles, full of information and creativity was quick to educate: Marinades, ice cream and fruit toppings, cocktails, sauces, you name it! The list is extensive.
Strawberries, for example, are frequently paired with chocolate, but that can overpower the fruit. Vita Sana’s Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar will draw out the fruit flavor and add a nice “chocolate bow tie” to it.
Every oil and vinegar sold at Vita Sana is available to taste, including their specialty, non-olive base oils (Roasted Japanese Sesame Seed, Roasted Walnut, and Roasted Almond) and the award winning Ora Bailen Picual – the most highly decorated EVOO in the world year after year. Then, should you choose to purchase, the products are bottled on site in 3 different sizes or a sampler pack.
Megan Sechrist, employee of Vita Sana has begun to share the Walsh’s enthusiasm for oils and vinegar. “When I first came here I’d never seen anything like it! You don’t usually shop this way – getting to taste what you want to buy first! It’s awesome.”
In addition to the oils and vinegars, Vita Sana provides an assortment of other products and services including Healthy Life Spices, organic pastas and artisan cheeses, oil profiling books, and much more. The second floor banquet facility is also a welcoming venue for weddings, corporate parties, and in store classes for groups interested in learning about the history, the making, and the health benefits of olive oil.
The idea of Vita San Olive Oil Company was driven by Casper locals. Merry Jane and Charles were frequently asked by customers of their first store, The Merry Peddler Kitchen Store, for fresh olive oil and vinegar recommendations and recipes.
Initially, Charles thought they might simply dedicate a small area of the existing store to oils and vinegars. But after intense research he quickly realized that a simple space inside The Merry Peddler Kitchen Store wasn’t going to cut it – at least 1000 feet needed to be devoted to olive oils and balsamic vinegars! There was just no other way to showcase the products, inform customers, and allow them to taste and learn.
The knowledge and passion of the owners, the onsite bottled-to-order after tasting practice, paired with the quality and freshness of these products cannot be found anywhere else in Casper.
Vita Sana, Located at 150 S Wolcott, in the Wolcott Galleria, and is open Monday through Friday 10am to 5:30pm and Saturday 10am to 5pm.