Ten Years and Counting at Alton's Olive Oil Marketplace

For over a decade, Julie and Tim Meeks, owners of the Olive Oil Marketplace, have been providing big flavor to the City of Alton.

From starting a small seasoning vendor from home to reaching the milestone of 10 consecutive years of business- in the midst of a pandemic no less- Olive Oil Marketplace has cemented its title as a downtown Alton icon- and what a journey it has been!

Early Days

Starting in 2011, Julie and Tim Meeks decided it was time they tried living a healthier lifestyle and wanted to do something for themselves for a change.

“We were fresh empty nesters with four kids. I’d worked corporate jobs for years and we just wanted something for ourselves,” Julie said, grinning, “We both like to cook, so we started our first year working out of our home- we went to every craft show and festival- making seasoning mixes and seeing what could sell.”

The following year, in 2012, the Meeks opened a space at 108 W 3rd Street with Tim running the shop’s marketing and making seasonings and Julie running the accounting and administration. Their home-based enterprise helped to fill a shopping niche in the region and the Meeks expanded their offerings into a full kitchen market selling specialty ingredients and their namesake oils and balsamic vinegars.

“Owning a business is a non-stop job,” Julie said, sighing, “It’s like having another child and the work is never done! You’re married to the business- but I’m a people person and we love what we do,” she laughed, “sometimes I have to tell myself to not touch the phone because it’s the weekend, but it’s hard to resist!”

In 2014, Julie said they took a trip to Italy and experienced olive-oil manufacture for the first time. The Meeks enjoyed fresh samplings of oils and learned about the process through which extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is made.

o what makes true extra virgin olive oil so superior? EVOO uses freshly-picked olives only. Olives are crushed into a fine paste which is pressed to release the oils inside and the resulting oil is not diluted with cheaper oils like vegetable, peanut, canola, or soy- which cancel out olive oil’s extraordinary health benefits.

Taste, Tang and Tradition

Dedicated to quality, the Meeks maintain a hand-selected, pure stock of EVOO and back their high-grade ingredients with years of culinary experience. Many of the shop’s oils come from the Mediterranean region including Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia, and Morocco and some come from as far as South American Chile. Olive oils, infused with flavors like roasted garlic and tomato, Portobello mushroom and garlic, Italian herb, and lemon pepper are just a fraction of the options offered and the balsamic vinegars are just as various including raspberry, mango, lemon, and even chocolate flavors!

As the shop grew, it began to offer more and more to its customers which included many regional restaurants. Today, over 80 extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars are available, along with avocado and sesame oils, pasta, house-curated seasoning mixes, coffee, tea, jams, local honey, kitchen and BBQ supplies, and more. In November of 2016, the Meeks decided to open a second location in Belleville, Illinois.

Julie said they closed the business for several weeks in 2020, being wary of the pandemic,

“It was a very confusing time. We weren’t sure what we should do because there wasn’t anything like it. But then we became inundated with calls from worried customers who were afraid to lose us,” Julie stressed, “It meant a lot that they relied on us.” Julie says the business began to offer curbside services and relied heavily on their online sales throughout the worst of the pandemic.

On June 3 and 4, 2022, the Meeks celebrated Olive Oil Marketplace’s tenth anniversary by having sales, hosting vendor samplings, and partnering with local businesses serving their products such as Bossanova’s, Mac’s, State Street Grill, Morrison’s Old Bakery Beer, Brown Bag Bistro, Bluff City Grill, and My Just Desserts. You can see the passion in Julie as she shows off their impressive stock at the marketplace,

“Olive oil is so good for you- your heart- your brain- we like to say it has all of the good fats!” she said. Whether by helping you maintain a healthier diet, providing culinary insight, or just spicing up your daily cooking, Olive Oil Marketplace brings taste, tang, and tradition to Southwest Illinois.

About the Author

Kayla Howland

Kayla Howland is a local writer and artist who lives in Alton, IL with her Cairn Terrier, Ripley. She enjoys fiction and non-fiction writing, graphic design, painting, drawing and photography. Kayla is a graduate of Southwestern High School and Lewis & Clark Community College. She has worked doing freelance graphic design, photography and commissioned paintings since 2012.