The Olive Pit in Corning
● By Al Rocca
By Al Rocca
TRAVELERS ALONG Interstate 5 cannot help but notice the tall, inviting electronic sign urging motorists to stop at the Olive Pit Store & Restaurant in Corning. Situated right off the Corning Road exit, the Olive Pit may not look impressive from the freeway, yet inside, visitors enter the marvelous world of olives. Most newcomers to the establishment head immediately for the free olive bar, where one can sample a variety of locally grown and processed gourmet olives. Best sellers are almond stuffed, green, garlic stuffed and kalamata olives. Some exciting newer varieties include habanero stuffed, smoked pitted, Texas hot chili pitted and even blue cheese stuffed spicy olives.
The story of Olive Pit begins immediately after World War II, when Pete Craig returned home from service in the Pacific. Ron Craig, Pete’s son, tells what happened next: “Pete and his three brothers brought their parents from Oakland to Corning and purchased land at the southwest corner of Solano Street and Toomes Avenue, where they hand-built (with the help of their uncles who were tradesmen from Scotland) the Craig Bros. Shell gas station and homes on the same parcel for their parents and three brothers.”
Within a short time, Pete met and married Ann, a former resident of the Bay Area who originally hailed from Oklahoma. When World War II broke out, Ann moved to Richmond where she worked as a “Wendy the Welder” at the Kaiser shipyards. While she helped build the ships, Pete sailed on one of them.
Together they purchased a small farm and olive orchard just outside of Corning. With an eye on the news that the government was planning to construct an interstate highway right next to the town, the Craig brothers purchased a plot of land on the projected Corning exit site – the northeast corner of Edith and Solano streets. The brothers figured motorists needed gas, so they opened a Shell gas station in 1965.
Within a couple of years Pete and Ann, who had bought the lot next to the Shell station, decided to open a business. At first, they believed a hand-operated car wash would be a logical fit. Pete worked hard to make a go of it. In a short time, they decided to sell retail, so the Olive Pit next offered olives along with ice cream and other small food items.
As traffic on Interstate 5 grew, so did the Olive Pit’s business. With the recognition that Corning was the “heart of the olive country,” the Olive Pit became a well-known name throughout the Sacramento Valley. More varieties of olives became available and gourmet olive oils became a big seller at the Olive Pit as part of a trend seen regionally and nationally.
Last year, the Olive Pit celebrated its 50th anniversary. The store continues to draw large crowds, particularly on the weekends. Additions to their vast array of olives and olive oils include gourmet mustard and horseradish, jams, jellies, tea, honey and syrup – even salsa sauces.
Their enterprise is one worth recognizing. Not only have they succeeded economically, but they are truly a family business. Over the years, Pete and Ann’s children, Allan, Bonnie and Ron, worked at the Olive Pit. Bonnie and Ron are still active in the business. Grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews help to carry on the family-owned and operated tradition.
Stop by and see this historic olive store. After you buy your favorite variety of olives, try one of their delicious muffuletta sandwiches and top it off with a fabulous signature shake – it’s a treat for the whole family. •
Olive Pit • 2156 Solano St, Corning • (530) 824-4667