John Trimble closed his family's 40-year-old Albany restaurant La Serre in March without any idea what would happen next.
As the reopening guidelines emerged in the spring, Trimble realized that the restaurant, which had relied heavily on banquets, would not be able to survive in the Covid world. So his family decided to close it for good and put the building on the market; but even then, there was still uncertainty.
"It could be two months or two years before we sell the building," he said.
That's when Trimble decided to make use of the space while he still had it and launch Hot Crispy Oil, a new business that sells jarred olive oil with garlic, shallots and chile peppers. Since Trimble started production in July, he's sold more than 10,000 units, with distribution in stores throughout the Albany region, and as far across the country as Wisconsin.
"We thought we had a success from the beginning based on the product, but we didn’t think within the first two months we’d have 25 retailers," Trimble said. "We just didn’t think the success would be that fast."
Trimble runs the business with three partners: his girlfriend Maura Kelly, who manages social media; Nick Treffiletti, who designs marketing materials; and Mike Crisafulli, who is a local developer with Crisafulli Associates LLC.
Hot Crispy Oil sells its products direct-to-consumer from its website, in addition to 40 retailers, mostly local. Trimble says he's adding four to five new retailers every week. The retailers are mostly food-related (think import shops like Roma Foods), but also include the local Hatchet Hardware chain.
"A lot of these places are just branching out. They help local people and the demand’s been there," Trimble said.
The company still handles most of the distribution itself, but is looking to soon sign deals with distributors in western New York and New York City.
As the business has grown, it's strained the production space at La Serre. Trimble says it's large enough, but lacks typical amenities like a loading dock that would be helpful for a food production business. He may soon look for a proper warehouse and production space.
And although Trimble managed La Serre for nearly 15 years, he said running Hot Crispy Oil has become an entirely different challenge.
"One thing that’s very different is this business doesn’t really sleep," he said.
He's constantly on his phone answering inquiries from suppliers or customers. It's not like a restaurant where you can lock up and go home.
"It’s definitely all consuming," Trimble said.
But the silver lining is he can manage the business from anywhere, which means he's spending more time at home with his kids.