By Nancy Ash June 02, 2008
It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of my friend Betty Pustarfi, the founder of Strictly Olive Oil, on May 6th, 2008.
For many years I knew Betty through her work in the specialty foods industry. She founded Jones & Bones (she was Bones) in Capitola, California with Jennifer Jones in 1984, which rose to prominence as one of California’s best gourmet retailers. Her research into the store’s many offerings established Betty as an expert on olive oil; after launching her own business Strictly Olive Oil she created olive oil tasting bars in several retail venues and at festivals such as the annual TomatoFest in Carmel, California. Betty’s expertise extended to balsamic vinegars and mustards as well; we laughed together at the thought of changing the business name to Not So Strictly Olive Oil!
Betty and I became friends in 2006 when I expressed my interest in purchasing her business. I then learned that food was actually Betty’s 3rd career. After high school graduation Betty enlisted in the Air Force and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant during the Korean War; I love the photo of her standing with then General Eisenhower. She temporarily left the service to earn her Bachelors Degree in English from Arizona State University, and then returned to military service by enlisting in the Army where she became First Lieutenant.
After her honorable discharge in 1957 Betty rejoined civilian life and began a long career in corporate communications. But as with so many of us in the food industry, her love of all-things-culinary lured her into the gourmet world, where she became one of the industry’s most passionate voices on the quality and authenticity of food.
Highlights of Betty’s culinary career included participating in the early days of the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) as well as working with the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC). She traveled to Tunisia, Turkey and Australia to both learn and teach about olive oil. She conducted tasting seminars throughout the U.S.; she was a popular presenter at several NASFT Fancy Food Show Educational Seminars.
In fact one of my favorite Betty anecdotes (there are so many from which to choose!) was from a Fancy Food Show. I was in a booth offering samples of balsamic vinegar when an attendee began asking several questions. We spoke about the Italian classifications of Traditionale and Condimento which unfortunately are not used nor understood in the U.S. This person then informed me that she had just listened to Betty’s presentation on balsamics, had been a retailer for years and yet had never heard these terms and was actually confirming this "new" information. At the time, Betty and I may have been working on different sides of the booth, but we were working towards the same goals.
When I heard that Betty was planning to retire, I immediately knew that I was destined to purchase Strictly Olive Oil and continue her work. During our "negotiations" (I use the term loosely since it involved indulgent lunches which were quite fun) I confessed that I had always coveted the name "Strictly Olive Oil" as it succinctly defined my career choices as well as hers. Betty was proud to be a gifted wordsmith and had planned to return to writing poems and "Poor Betty’s Hubris (Almanac)" in her retirement. Jennifer (Jones) recently described Betty as "living large without apologies". I always found Betty’s insights educational, her humor infectious, her passion inspirational, and her feistiness a not-so-gentle push in the right direction. I will miss her dearly.
In addition to her life partner Jennifer, Betty is survived by her sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephews. (Go to http://www.legacy.com/MercuryNews/DeathNotices.asp?Page=LifeStory&PersonID=110096459 to read Betty’s obituary and leave a note in the guest book.) Contributions in Betty's memory can be made to Dominican Hospital/Dominican Home Health Care, 1555 Soquel Dr., Santa Cruz, CA 95065.