It’s a remarkable family story that goes back five generations (and entering the 6th) and thousands of miles away in the foothills of Kalamata— eventually makes its way to Pittsburgh and returns full-circle to a tiny village in the foothills of southern Greece.
Antonis Liokareas was known as an expert farmer in the mid 1870s and his plot of land— inherited from his own forefathers was amongst the best in the area— nicknamed perivolatha or “premium orchard” by the locals.
Antonis had a knack for harvesting and pressing Koroneiki olives into a rich and flavorful oil and expanded his business by acquiring more orchards. By the turn of the century, he was ready to pass the baton to his son, Fotios— but not before he could protect his legacy and family tradition.
According to Antonis’ wishes, it was recorded in the registry that “the Liokareas premium orchards must be passed down to a son bearing the Liokareas name, and could not be sold, under any circumstance for 5 generations.”
He eventually transferred everything to Fotis, who carried on the family tradition for the first part of the 1900s, before passing the business to his son Panayiotis.
Panayiotis ran the business well into the mid 1940s and was considered an innovator in the region. He used large stone presses that were operated by horses to make some of the finest extra virgin olive oil and teaching his two sons Yiannis and Antonis the family business.
Political upheaval brought change to Greece following the Civil War and eventual arrival of the military dictatorship in the 1960s, forcing Panayiotis to emigrate to the United States in search of new opportunities to care for his family.
He took his son Yiannis— leaving Antonis to tend to the olive oil business. After establishing Yiannis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Panayiotis returned to Greece. Yiannis stayed in Pittsburgh where he married, became a successful businessman— and had his own son, Panayiotis, named in honor of his father.
American-born Panayiotis— or Peter, first visited the perivolatha near Kalamata when he was three. The grandfather whose name he inherited walked with him, tree by tree, telling him stories of his family and introducing him to the land that’s been in his family for generations.
He walked amongst antique remnants of years past– strange objects now embedded in the land that were used by his grandfather, and his grandfather before him to press olives into oil.
Over the years, Peter spent summers in Greece getting a better handle of the olive harvesting process and gaining an extensive knowledge of olive oil making.
While attending the University of Pittsburgh, Peter spent summers in Greece and winter break— harvest time— in the olive tree orchards and learning first hand a tradition that didn’t only go back generations in his family— but thousands of years. In many villages around Kalamata, the olive harvest is still being done by hand— exactly as it has been since antiquity.
“I was 3 years old the first time I walked the “perivolatha” with my grandfather Panayiotis. He showed me, just like his grandfather Antonios showed him, how premium olive oil was made. I quickly fell in love with the family tradition and would spend summers with my grandfather in the village. In my teenage and college years, I found myself traveling to this land more frequently, always in time to help my grandfather harvest our olives. I cherished the days when my grandfather would take me to the old stone press, and show me how the oil was made.”
Peter has established Oilio, a Pittsburgh-based importer of his family’s olive oil from Kalamata and hopes to share what he calls— some of the best extra virgin olive oil in the world, with consumers in the United States.
And he couldn’t have picked a better time.
With numerous scandals plaguing Italy, the market leader in olive oil exports globally, Peter’s goal is to share Greek extra virgin olive oil with the world and inform consumers— overwhelmed with labels like “organic” or “non-genetically modified” that these standards come naturally at Oilio.
Back in the old country, Peter says, this is what we have been doing for hundreds of years and “natural” and “organic” is just the way things are done.
“At Oilio, we continue to do things the same way that my great-great grandfather, Antonis Liokareas was doing in 1870, and this is what we will continue to do,” Peter said.
Some would call Peter an entrepreneur. But Peter is just doing what five generations of Liokareas family members have been doing before him— a keeper of an ancient tradition that his people— and all Greek people have been known for for thousands of years.
And the beautiful part of this story— he’s already introduced the perivolatha to his boys Yianni and Nicholas— still toddlers, but already getting the way of the land and carrying the Liokareas olive oil tradition into the next generation.
Peter is slowly expanding Oilio into the greater Pittsburgh region, seeking wholesale and retail partnerships with shops and grocery stores, while simultaneously shipping nationwide to customers via the company’s online shop. Someday, he hopes to expand into the larger markets of New York City, Chicago and even to the West Coast.
About Oilio’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
Oilio Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made from Koroneiki trees, considered “the queen” of olive trees because they produce smaller olives with a dense and full flavor. Oilio is 100% pure Koroneiki, made only from the family’s orchards and never blended with other types of lower quality oil, as many big Italian producers have been caught doing.
The olives are pressed as soon as they are harvested. Leaving olives harvested for days before they are pressed can cause the skin to wrinkle, and acidity levels to rise. Also, Oilio never uses pesticides— all of the company’s orchards grow naturally and are harvested by hand.
As a special to Pappas Post readers, Oilio has created a special promotion that is a win-win for everyone involved. When you purchase products from Oilio’s website, us the discount code “pappaspost” and you get 10% off your order and— as an added benefit, Oilio will donate 10% to our charity of choice, Kivotos Tou Kosmou (Ark of the World) that supports abandoned children in Greece.
The Liokareas Family: From the foothills of Kalamata to the bridges of Pittsburgh and back again
Antonis Liokareas- Farming olive trees in the 1870s and making some of the best extra virgin olive oil in the region in the foothills of Kalamata. He passed the family business to his son Fotis in the early 1900s.
Fotis Liokareas – Carried on the family business well into the 1940s, passing it on to his son Panayiotis.
Panayiotis Liokareas – Expanded the business and by the mid 1940s was using large stone presses and horses that pulled large wooden planks in a circle and lowered a massive stone which much more efficiently pressed the olives into extra virgin olive oil. The result was some of the finest extra virgin olive oil in the region. He passed the business to his son Antonis and eventually took his other son Yiannis and emigrated to the United States.
Yiannis Liokareas established himself in Pittsburgh as a successful businessman, instilling in his own son Peter (Panayiotis) a knowledge and love for the land of their family. He took his American-born son to Greece for the first time when he was only three years old, where Papou Panayiotis would introduce him to the olive tree for the first time.
Peter Liokareas, while a student at the University of Pittsburgh, spent summer and winter break flying to Greece to get to know the land and traditions of olive pressing. He took over the family business and now runs Oilio, a Pittsburgh-based importer of fine, extra virgin olive oil.
In 2013 Peter took his then one-year-old son Yianni to the village to be baptized in the same church where generations of the Liokareas clan before him were baptized. After his second son Nicholas was born, he too was introduced to the “Perivolatha” when he was still a toddler.