On a Friday afternoon at the Farmers Market of Hope, you’ll find Mike Whitfield, co-owner of Olesya’s Kitchen, selling his wife’s baked goods. Whitfield’s main role in the operation is to sell the confections his wife creates.
“I’m just the taste-tester and spokesmodel,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield may be the face of Olesya’s Kitchen, but wife Olesya Whitfield is the skilled hand behind their business.
Olesya Whitfield began her culinary undertakings 31 years ago after she attended culinary school in her home country, Ukraine. Many of her farmers market offerings, such as pastry dots and honey cakes, bear the touch of her home country.
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Mike Whitfield fielded our questions.
How and when did you become a part of the Farmers Market of Hope?
We were invited because of our several years of history with the Columbus Farmers Market. My wife is an award-winning baker from Ukraine. This is her passion. I always try to connect my wife’s passion with an appreciative palate.
What inspired you and your wife to begin your business?
Well, their education in the Soviet Union was a little different. Basically when they get out of what we would call junior high school, they start college of some sort. So she decided she wanted to be a baker. But then when she went to the school, she had to wait because all the classes were filled up. They said we can get you into a cooking school right now. She went to a culinary institute there to be a chef. When she came over to the United States, she took up domestic help and then when we got married 11 years ago she said she always wanted to have a storefront. Well you have to have a lot of money for that, but I really wanted to support her. I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to support this woman.’ You know why? Because “Happy wife, happy life.”
What do you sell?
Typically baked goods, but also gluten-free products like quinoa, vegetable quinoa (fine ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, dill) tossed with olive oil and a special vinegar you can’t get anywhere else. Also, spinach feta cheese quinoa. We also sell homemade breads, too, with Monterey cheddar and Italian seasoning.”
How long have you been making/growing/crafting your goods?
We were doing it part time about seven or eight years ago, but we’ve been doing it full time for the past three years.
What do you like about being a part of the market?
I love the people. And I love it when people love my wife’s hard work. She doesn’t like being in the front, which is why she isn’t here right now. She likes being behind the scenes. I like coming back and telling her, “So and so said that was the best quinoa that they ever had,” or “The baklava, or honey cake, or burritos, it’s the best they ever had.” I tell my wife that and she loves hearing the compliments, but she doesn’t want me to single her out and say, “This is the chef, here.” She’s modest.
What are you looking forward to most?
We value and treasure our returning customers. It’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing you did your best and the people appreciate that. That is validation, I really appreciate it. I don’t put out things that I don’t like.
What types of conversations do you have with the shoppers?
I try to educate them on what she has, but we talk about a variety of things because I love people. I like people to feel comfortable in what they got.
Do you sell at other locations? Where?
Yes, I sell in the Farmers Market of Columbus on Saturday mornings. (The market) creates a really nice vibe having all these people around. Everybody at the market is at the top of their game. They are artisans and I love it.
Is this a hobby or more for you?
It’s more for me. I can’t foresee a time that she wouldn’t be cooking. If she won the lottery, she would still cook and give food away.
What are you plans after the market ends?
Looking for restaurants that would like to use us as a contractor for our baked goods. We have other products with shelf life that is longer and we understand that they need that. On Tuesday and Thursday we have a catering business where I take peoples’ number and I send them a text and tell them what the menu items are and what they cost. I ask them ‘Please let me know what you’d like delivered.’
— Compiled by Brittany King for The Republic
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Vendor Name: Olesya’s Kitchen
Market: Farmers Market of Hope, Hope Town Square, State Road 9
When: 3 to 6 p.m. Fridays through Sept. 2