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Bari Olive Oil Makes a Splash With the Stars

By Linda Renn, Sentinel staff
Dinuba product will be showcased at 'Oscar Suite'

Dinuba's own Bari Olive Oil Company is rubbing shoulders with the stars of Hollywood.

Products from the processing plant on Road 56 southwest of Dinuba have made appearances in the dishes served at the Golden Globes awards dinner the past two years. Next up, Bari Olive Oil will be part of an “Oscar Suite” in the days leading up to the 84th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 26.

The staff at Bari has not shied away from the invitations to showcase their olive oil to the rich and famous. “It's opened up other opportunities,” said Kyle Sawatzky, who owns the company along with his brother Ryan.

It all started with a connection forged between Bari and the chef of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Suki Sugiura. The chef “spends an incredible amount of time researching ingredients” and looks in particular for California products, said Sawatzky. So, after discovering Bari Olive Oil online, Sugiura called Dinuba to ask if he could visit during an upcoming vacation. Sawatzky was happy to give the chef a tour of the processing plant, and of course, Sugiura did some product tastings. Kyle and Ryan's father took Sugiura out into the fields to see the olive plantings.

Soon Sugiura was using Bari products in his recipes and Bari was bottling olive oil with the hotel's brand for guests and clients of the Beverly Hilton. A year ago, said Sawatzky, the Beverly Hilton kitchens used Bari olive oil in each course served at the Golden Globes. The oil was again used in recipes served to the celebrities at the 2012 Golden Globes.

Those appearances led to another invitation.

Bari Olive Oil was asked to showcase its products at the “Alive — Go Green Expo” at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last month.
Sawatzky was committed to attend a meeting related to a proposed federal marketing order for olive oil, but when he asked Bari's business manager, Kelly Salinas, if she wanted to go to Utah, she didn't hesitate.

Salinas and another Bari employee, Kathleen Kahn, spent three days at the Sundance Expo, introducing Bari Oil to film producers, actors and other people associated with the film industry. Bari was sponsored at Sundance by the nonprofit Fortunate Angels and Root Music. Salinas and Kahn offered wine tastings and free samples to everyone who stopped by their booth.

Salinas recalls that Louis Lombardi, a cast member from HBO's “The Sopranos,” said he preferred Italian olive oil. But after tasting Bari Olive Oil at the Expo, he was calling his friends over to try it, said Salinas.

In the evenings, Salinas and Kahn were invited to bring their tasting table to the after-parties. One night they set up a table in a large mansion at a party hosted by Root Music. Party-goers were paying $20,000 to $30,000 each to attend the affair, said Salinas.

Back in Dinuba last week, the company staff was laying plans for their annual booth at World Ag Expo in Tulare this week. They were also making plans to showcase Bari Olive Oil at the “Oscar Suite” Feb. 24-26 in Los Angeles, where they will offer tasting and gift samples.

What do Salinas and Kahn say when people ask about Dinuba? They explain that the town is about half-an-hour south of Fresno, a city everyone seems to recognize.
The olive oil seems to speak for itself. Overwhelmingly, said Salinas, those who sample it “like the fact that the product is California-grown” and that Bari does its own harvesting and processing. Bari Olive Oil Company traces its roots to 1936. The Ugaste family of Reedley owned the company for about 50 years.

Before the Sawatzky family transformed the facility on Road 56, just north of Avenue 400, into an olive oil processing plant, it was a fruit packing facility. That changed after a labor shortage hit the California fresh fruit industry in 2005.

“We started looking at other farming opportunities, “said Sawatzky. “Peaches and nectarines weren't what they needed to be.”
The family looked at blueberries, citrus and even a sustainable lumber operation.

They discovered that olive trees met their requirements: Olives are machine-harvested and machine-processed, eliminating a dependence on hand labor; even high-density olive plantings use half the water needed by peaches and nectarines; and olive trees need few chemicals, making them easy to grow organically. “We jumped in with both feet in 2006,” said Sawatzky, and then the business took off with the purchase of Bari in 2008.

Today, the Sawatzky family owns 60 acres of olive trees and harvests about 1,000 acres annually. Olive trees produce 150-200 gallons of oil per acre.

Bari Olive Oil is sold in specialty food and health food stories in nine western states and all over the world, said Sawatzky, including China and Canada. The company is getting ready to launch in Japan soon. What makes Bari Olive Oil distinctive enough that a chef from the Beverly Hilton is a fan? “A lot of it is our attention to detail,” said Sawatzky. “Our olives are harvested at the peak of ripeness and freshness.

They are pressed within a few hours.” The olives are pressed in small batches. The flavors differ from field to field and they range from delicate to robust. Bari also makes olive oils infused with flavors such as lemon, garlic and orange. The on-site tasting room and gift shop on Road 56 offers the full Bari product line. “The same client who appreciates a good wine, appreciates a good olive oil,” said Sawatzky.

Bari is a big enough company, said Sawatzky, to the capacity to supply a nationwide market chain, but it is also small enough to fill the specialty gift market. One example is bottling individual lots ordered by corporations who want to give them as gifts. This past Christmas, Bari partnered with the woodworking classes at Dinuba High School for their gift basket production. Students took the raw materials supplied by Bari, then built wooden crates that Bari used as containers for their gift baskets.