After 30 years of marriage, Sally and David Gist are, in many ways, back where they started.
Although a far cry from the restaurant scene of Portland, Oregon, their new venture in northwest Florida takes them back to the culinary and hospitality careers both trained for years ago.
When the two met, David worked as an executive chef and Sally worked the front of the house in an Oregon resort. In 2000, they decided it was time for a change and moved to Orlando.
After working separate jobs for years, they successfully operated a commercial pool maintenance business together for more than a dozen years.
During that time, they discovered the Florida Panhandle as their favorite spot for getaways. After vacationing near Marianna several years, they bought a second home there and eventually decided to settle in the area.
“We sold our business in Orlando and moved up here about a year and a half ago,” David says.
They planned to take a couple years off to decompress.
“Then Sally found this place,” David says of the olive grove set on 5 acres in rural Jackson County.
Green Gate Olive Grove—the first olive grove in Florida—was established in 1999 as an experimental grove to find out what varieties would be best in the Panhandle. Designed after villas in Italy, it is planted with nine varieties.
The venture may seem like a departure for a couple looking to leave behind the hectic business world, but it is a natural fit. The atmosphere of Jackson County is just what they were looking for. The grove gave them the opportunity to return to work they enjoyed together, and fed their creativity.
“We needed refuge,” Sally recalls. “We were so stressed out. As soon as you turn from I-75 onto I-10, it’s like the stress just disappears. Jackson County is just beautiful, and the people are so friendly. Everybody smiles. It’s almost like, if you don’t smile, people look at you funny.”
When they saw the grove, Sally says they immediately felt a connection to it and a responsibility to nurture it.
“We bought the grove from a very nice man,” Sally says. “He retired at 89. He’s still with us. He comes out to check on things and see how we’re doing.”
They built a new house. Their original second home in Marianna is now their catering kitchen and packaging plant.
Together, the couple is still learning about caring for trees, which includes everything from propagation to harvest. They’ve been nurturing back to health many trees damaged during Hurricane Michael in the fall of 2018. They also are working on their own specialized areas of the business, which include developing, marketing and delivering original products, tours, tastings and catered events.
Sally is designing a website, scheduling tours and planning events. David is developing recipes for oils, vinegars, spreads and more, and designs kitchen products using the wood from lost trees.
“Nothing is going to waste,” Sally says.
“I really would like to do some cooking demonstrations, too,” David adds. “I’m a bit of a ham. I love standing up here. It’s fun to take the products we make and grow and present them.”
After 30 years, the Gists find themselves enjoying the same careers they were pursuing when they met. But as proprietors of Green Gate Olive Grove, they have added responsibilities, including agriculture, retail and marketing.
Each role could be a full-time job for many folks. The experienced entrepreneurs happily take them on while building their own business—and they’ve found their ideal place to build it.
“I said to him, ‘Did you think we’d be doing this again?’” Sally says with a smile. “Who knew? We’ve done so many things in between. But everything you do in life prepares you for something else.”
Sally surveys the orchard as she and David prepare for their first full harvest season since opening. They hope to share their crops and creations—as well as the new home they love—with their neighbors and friends from near and far.
“Orlando was very good to us, but I love it here,” Sally says. “Here, I’m at home.”
Green Gate Olive Grove is at 2814 Nortek Blvd., Alford, FL 32420. For more information, visit www.greengateolivegrove.com.