It feels like only yesterday that my father was telling me bedtime stories filled with Greek mythology and legend. It was those stories that captivated an imagination made real by my first trip to Greece in 1993. The lands of antiquity didn’t disappoint. I can so clearly recall the cerulean blue sea, the clay stone, the beaming sunlight, the craggy land scattered with olive groves and the wondrous meals built on the holy trinity of wheat, grapes, and olives. It was those incredible olives I wanted everyone back home to experience. I had never had olives so delicious. In the words of Lawrence Durrell, it was a taste as old as cold water.

My connection to the Mediterranean was solidified when I founded FOODMatch three years later in 1996. Lakis, our first Kalamata grower, warmly welcomed me into his home and I was filled with anticipation as he and his family expressed the love of their land and the pride in their just-harvested olives. I shared my vision for bringing his harvest to appreciating families back in America. It was a partnership and relationship that would grow over the years as he led us to other growers with the same deep care, stewardship, and pride in their family’s harvest.

But as we often come to find, relationships are never without complications. Like the year Lakis’ olive grove was hit by a hail storm leaving him without a harvest. It was a tense moment. But even through those challenging times it was our fundamental trust in each other and shared purpose that built a relationship to span these 25 years.

Reflecting on our 25th anniversary, this mutual trust, appreciation, and purpose propelled us forward to a place I could not have imagined the first time I sat at Lakis’ dining table. It has been the fulfillment of a dream to help create a reliable market for those family harvests and reward our consumers with authenticity and deliciousness while having a positive impact on the environment, local economies, and traditional agriculture.

Connection has always been important to me. It defines how I navigate life. I’m drawn to genuine connection, something particularly challenging to nurture over the past pandemic year. The joy of my years working in a retail cheese shop was guiding shoppers to new discoveries, new tastes, and seeing a smile emerge from the delicious experience we had shared. It’s a longer path to bridge the connection from a farmer in Greece to an olive bar shopper or restaurant patron here in America. But it is made possible by our relationships and our unwavering commitment to quality, taste and education.

Food is love (as imperfect as love is) and building on connections and relationships, one at a time, helps bring people, communities and societies closer to filling a profoundly human need: shared experience and understanding. If our 25th year has taught us any single lesson, it is the value of experience, empathy and kindness.

I often remember a meal – or more specifically, a server I once met at a restaurant in Paris. I was struck by her passion and knowledge as she seemed to understand the nuance of every taste and texture the dish she was bringing would offer. I finally complimented her deep expertise. She admitted her formal training was as a Maître Saucier, a position no longer available at any level due to budget concerns. Yet, it was the secret sauce in a restaurant. “The sauce is the poetry.”, she said.

At FOODMatch, our secret sauce is the relationships built over the last 25 years. Sustained through challenging harvests brought by climate change. Sustained through times like when we had to flee our little office a few blocks north of the World Trade Center. Sustained through port strikes. Sustained through a pandemic. As you can see, sustainability is more than a trendy buzzword around here. And now, after 25 years, I find myself most profoundly thankful for the trust and connection that has sustained us and will continue to carry us forward.

I offer my most heartfelt appreciation and cheers to everyone who is a part of this journey. Twenty-five years in and it still feels like we are only getting started.

With love and gratitude,

Phil

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