Alton’s Olive Oil Marketplace celebrates 10 years

ALTON – You know it’s going to be an immersive experience the moment you step through the door of the Olive Oil Marketplace in downtown Alton.

A forest of bottles with 85 different flavors of oil and balsamic, 40 different tasting bins, and staff eager to help each customer find just the right product are all signs that this is a place for serious foodies.

“As soon as you walk into the restaurant, it’s that wow factor,” said Tim Meeks, who owns the Olive Oil Marketplace with his wife Julie. “It can be overwhelming, but our staff do an excellent job of speaking to our customers to make them feel comfortable. We are there to guide them. It’s not uncommon for someone to spend 35 or 40 minutes in there just talking, looking at oils and trying them out.”

The Olive Oil Marketplace at 108 W. Third St. has come a long way in 10 years. The business started as an idea the Meeks had during their travels, learning about different types of specialty shops, including olive oil shops.

“Julie and I were like, ‘Yeah, we’re foodies, we like this stuff, we should check this out,'” said Tim Meeks. “We did a little research and found some reference points where we could access the oils and balsamics and next thing you know we were involved.”

“We started doing different events and craft fairs, we worked from home, and after a year we opened a brick and mortar shop and gave it our all,” Meeks said. “Our kids thought we were crazy at first, we knew it was a niche market, but it put us down a path where people are now eager to buy the product.”

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The Olive Oil Marketplace was so successful that in 2016 the Meeks opened a second location at 310 E. Main St. in Belleville in the Old Town Mall.

This popularity and success starts with the products that the company offers. The Olive Oil Marketplace imports all of its oils directly from Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, Chile, Spain and Greece, with some oils hailing from California. The oils are independently tested to ensure they are genuine, extra-virgin olive oils.

Various flavors are then infused into the oils, including garlic, parmesan, herbs, spicy habaneros and jalapenos, as well as some fruit and smoke flavors. The shop also has eight different varieties of unflavored olive oils, all of which are oils from different regions and each have their own distinctive flavor.

“I like the parmesan and garlic flavored oils, and Julie leans more towards the lemon,” Meeks said. “The flavored oils eliminate the need for many salty spices. It definitely changes the way you cook and it’s a lot healthier for you.”

The store also stocks more than 30 flavored balsamic vinegars imported from Modena, Italy.

Customers are greeted by the Marketplace’s lush cherry wood cabinets and tasting stations, where guests are encouraged to sample the oils and balsamics, find new ways to mix and match ingredients, and pick up some recipe ideas.

“If you’re a food junkie, this is the place for you. We also have flavored pasta, condiments and rubs, salsas, sauces, mustard, coffee, tea, popcorn and gadgets,” Meeks said. “We’re trying to get things that are different from the big department stores.”

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The Alton Olive Oil Marketplace is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Belleville Store is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 12pm to 4pm, Thursday from 12pm to 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 2pm

“We’ve been here for 10 years, so I think we’re doing something right,” Meeks said. “We would like to be a destination for people and there are already quite a few who drive an hour to us.”