The Gourmet Grove opened its doors to customers Friday, Oct. 16. The shop, located in downtown Mebane (126 W. Clay St.), carries a variety of gourmet oils, vinegars, pastas, and meal, bread, spice, and sauce mixes.
The Gourmet Grove owner Allyson Atherton said she opened shop for “families that are looking to provide healthy meals without having to spend a fortune.”
“I did over two years of research for the products I wanted to carry in my store,” Atherton said. “I knew I only wanted to carry the best products that were still a reasonable price for our everyday shopper.”
The oils for sale range in price from $6.99 for a small taster bottle, to $28.99 for a large wine-bottle-size bottle of specialty oil like The Gourmet Grove’s black truffle olive oil.
The shop offers a total of 55 varieties of oils & vinegars, which are presented to customers in stainless steel containers with tasting cups beside each tap. “When you come in the store,” Atherton said, “you can taste any of our flavors.”
Atherton will have bread made in shop for customers to taste the oils with, or one could “drink it straight out of the cup,” Atherton said.
The olive oil flavors can range “from a mild flavoring, through to a medium, to a very robust,” Atherton said. But prepare yourself: “Robust olive oils are very peppery and pungent.”
The difference between the olive oils available at The Gourmet Grove and the oil you might buy at a store, is that store-bought olive oil can “be mixed with canola oil, vegetable oil, or some other really highly processed oil,” Atherton said.
To produce The Gourmet Grove’s olive oil, her sources use no fillers or additives. Her oils go from being picked off the tree, straight “to the crush site within four hours,” Atherton said. “Then they are bottled and shipped immediately.”
Atherton’s olive oils are seasonal. “Right now we are carrying our southern hemisphere oils from Australia, Portugal, and Chile. In about six months, we’ll have another harvest, so we’ll carry the northern hemisphere, which is Italy, Greece, and those types of areas,” Atherton said.
The oils are filled in The Gourmet Grove bottles for customers on site. “Our bottles are dark, green glass, and they’re corked to preserve the oil from moisture, heat, and light,” Atherton said. “You can keep them as long as you want to in these bottles.”
But if you use up The Gourmet Grove’s olive oil or vinegar and are in need of a refill, the shop will offer a bottle return program. “If you bring your bottle back, we’ll give you a discount on your next purchase,” Atherton said.
With the vast selection of flavors at The Gourmet Grove, Atherton is quick to offer suggestions and plans to feature a different flavor pairing in the store each month. “Right now my favorite pairing is the persian lime olive oil with the aged raspberry balsamic,” Atherton said and noted the blending would be great for salads, pastas, and even fruit salads. “It’s like drinking syrup,” she said.
But of all the oils available, Atherton noted the tuscan herb olive oil as her all-time favorite. “It’s very versatile,” she said. “I use it when I cook anything,” from sauteing vegetables to drizzling over potatoes.
The Gourmet Grove has also incorporated organic pastas and meal, spice, sauce, bread, and dessert mixes to their offerings so customers can put together a healthful and delicious meal quickly.
“The thickest pasta we have takes only 3 minutes to make,” Atherton said. And, to the sauce mix, one can “simply add two cans of tomato or some heavy cream” to prepare. “You can have a start-to-finish meal in 10 minutes with our products,” Atherton said.
Atherton, who has a background in construction administration, and her husband are originally from Louisiana. They moved to North Carolina in 1998 and have been living in Hillsborough for 14 years with their four children.
The idea for The Gourmet Grove started about seven years ago when a friend mentioned Atherton should open a store like the specialty olive oil shop he had visited in Pinehurst, NC.
This year, with her youngest children old enough to head to preschool, it seemed like the time was right to make this idea a reality.
“We started looking for a location in Hillsborough,” Atherton said, “but I always had Mebane in the back of my mind.”
“I really love the feel of [Mebane],” she said.
“I happened to be driving through and saw this building was for sale. Once we decided we were going to buy this building, everything kind of fell into place.”
After a complete gut of the building and many shopping trips for special furniture pieces around Mebane, Atherton has finally achieved the look she was going for. “I knew that I wanted beautiful farm tables to set up the oil and the vinegars,” Atherton said. “I wanted it to feel like you walked into home when you walked into my store.”
The Gourmet Grove is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.