After 36 years as a nurse and health-care professional, Julie Hickethier decided to take an unconventional retirement route.
In early November, Julie and her daughter, Mallory, opened Trovare, a high-quality cooking ingredient store offering specialty oils, cookware and gifts. Julie spent most of her life in Great Falls working as an emergency room and flight nurse and later as a nationwide health-care consultant, and she wanted to start her new business in her home state of Montana.
“I’m a Montana girl,” she said.
During her nursing career, Julie always had a passion for cooking and entertaining family and friends, and once she retired from her health-care career, she says her kids pushed her to start Trovare, which means to find or stumble upon in Italian. She recruited Mallory to be her business partner.
“I would be dead in the water if it wasn’t for her,” Julie said. “She’s an integral part in getting this thing going.”
While Julie handles the products, Mallory, a recent business marketing graduate from the University of Montana, handles the business side.
“I never assumed that my first job would be moving to Whitefish to help my mom,” Mallory said. “It’s her last career and it’s my first career. It’s just a funny stage in our lives.”
The mother-daughter team set up shop in downtown Whitefish, and they have already seen a steady flow of customers since their grand opening on Nov. 9.
Julie says the locally infused, high-end olive oils have been among her best sellers since she’s opened, and customer feedback overall has been positive.
While the olive oil and vinegar are imported from the Mediterranean Basin, their specialty flavors are infused in Bozeman through Trovare’s distributor, Olivelle. The 46 oil and vinegar flavors range from traditional infusions like caramelized garlic and Tuscan herb to peppered bacon and black truffle.
Julie takes pride in Trovare’s dedication to high-quality oils and vinegars, especially because of the olive oil industry’s history of fraud.
“Olive oil has a lot of sullied history because it’s easy to dilute and cover up the defects and make more money,” she said. “It’s imperative to find good producers to buy from.”
Olivelle’s owner, Brie Thompson, is one of 50 certified olive oil savantes in the world, which qualifies her as an expert in detecting oil defects, Julie said. Thompson imports oils from small estates in Italy, Spain and Lebanon to ensure olive quality. Julie says olive harvest should be early, providing a higher concentration of nutrients, and pressing should occur within hours of picking.
“The early pick and the pure olive oil is the healthy fat consumption, and that’s what we sell,” Julie said.
Once the oils arrive in Montana, Thompson inspects the oils for defects and the infusion process begins at a manufacturing plant in Bozeman.
While oils and vinegars are Trovare’s specialty, Julie also plans to host cooking classes at the store with classes taught by Liz Walton, a Flathead Valley Community College graduate of the culinary arts program. The classes are intended to add a social component to cooking, from date nights to family gatherings. Walton wants to make sure the meals can be easily recreated at home.
“We want people to experience the joy of being in the kitchen,” Julie said.
In addition to the oil, Julie maintains a local theme in Trovare, bringing in furniture from Bozeman while everything else is locally sourced in Whitefish, from cabinets to construction.
Julie says the Whitefish community and fellow merchants have played a significant role in her success so far, and there is genuine support in the community, Julie says.
“We just want people to cook and we want to inspire them with healthy and flavorful ingredients,” Julie said.
Trovare is located at 317 Central Ave. in downtown Whitefish. For more information, visit www.trovaremt.com.