At first glance, Melissa Rioux may seem young to be the president of a company, but once you talk to her, you’re struck by a maturity beyond her years. Rioux is the head of Lakonia Greek Products, manufacturers of Dáfni Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Greek Olive Oil Infusions, Kalamata Olives, and Wild Greek medicinal herbs and teas.
Lakonia Greek Products began in 2006, when Rioux’s mother Daphne began working at the Saco Farmer’s Market in Maine to test the market.
The company officially opened in 2007, harvesting olives from the family groves along the sun-drenched shores of the Aegean Sea.
Rioux uses the term “liquid gold” to describe the quality of their fine unfiltered oils. “They’re pure and healthy, full of antioxidants” she said. “Healthy can taste great if you’re using excellent ingredients.”
This weekend, area residents will have the opportunity to sample Lakonia’s products directly, at the Apollo Beach Manatee Festival of the Arts, to be held Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, the 15th, at E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin, sponsored by the SouthShore Area Chamber of Commerce.
More than 100 exhibitors of arts and crafts are expected, plus musical entertainment, children’s activities, tours, culinary demos and competitions.
Rioux enthusiastically conveys the pride she has in her family’s business. “Our family groves in Lakonia have optimal conditions for growing olive trees,” she said. Indeed, olive trees have flourished in the warm rocky hillsides of the Lakonia region of Greece as far back as 1500 B.C., and have become a vital staple of the Mediterranean diet.
Last month, Rioux appeared at the Fort Myers Greek Festival, offering visitors samples of her flavorful olive oil infusions and unfiltered olive oils. She has become the company representative at numerous trade shows, farm markets and festivals across the U.S. “I don’t mind all the traveling,” she said, “as long as it spreads the word about our exceptional products.”
Growing up with her family in Biddeford, Maine, Rioux often took trips to Greece to learn about the culture and cuisine. She attended Greek school for six years, learning the language and absorbing her Greek heritage.
While still in college, Rioux began working on product presentation for the business, creating labels and packaging to market their product ideas. After graduation, she moved back to her home in Maine, and was given the opportunity to create the business using her mother’s original recipes.
Although the company was her longtime dream-come-true, Rioux credits her mother Daphne for giving her the business opportunity and the wealth of her Greek heritage. “My mother is the magic behind it all,” said Rioux.
Like many small-business managers, Rioux assumes multiple tasks in the everyday operation of the company, including accounting, marketing, sales, product development and distribution. She travels frequently to Greece to oversee the cultivation of the olives and participate in the harvest.
Harvest of the olives usually occurs in early December, just before the olives ripen and change color. The olives must be handled carefully and are handpicked to ensure the fruit is not damaged.
“Handpicking is very labor intensive, but is essential to get the highest quality of oil,” said Rioux.
Family and friends often gather in Greece to share in the harvesting effort. Within 24 hours of this process, the olives are carefully gathered and brought to the local mill. Extraction must occur immediately after the harvest to avoid any chemical changes from taking place. This process is closely monitored, a critical step in producing a premium-grade olive oil.
Lakonia Greek Products are available at farmers’ markets, trade shows, and festivals across the U.S. During the next few months, Rioux is scheduled to appear at several festivals in Florida, including Bonita Springs, Pinellas Park and Naples. The full line of Lakonia products can be ordered online at www.LakoniaGreekProducts.com. or by calling 207-282-4002.