Cindy Makela, the matriarch of the Makela clan and their family business, is, as she puts it, “about as local as local can be.”
Her husband, Craig Makela, can trace his family roots through 10 generations of Santa Barbarans, and the Goleta olive oil ranch on which the family currently resides was originally part of a Spanish land grant.
Following in the footsteps of Craig’s great-great-grandfather, John Goux — who grew Santa Barbara’s first olive orchard — the Makela family founded the Santa Barbara Olive Company 30 years ago.
They currently operate an olive business called California Coast Naturals and are now embarking on a new venture, Oleavicin, an olive-oil-based collection of skin care products designed to target shingles, cold sores, and bug bites. Their son, Chad, is helping lead the charge. “He grew up in this industry,” Cindy said. “I mean, he was literally doing trade shows in a car seat.”
“We work really well together as a team,” she continued. “Of course, we have our ups and downs like any normal family would, but the three of us seem to have a pretty good dynamic and know whose lane is whose.”
One challenge the family faced together came in 2009, when an employee at the Santa Barbara Olive Co. embezzled more than $500,000, forcing the Makelas into debt before eventually selling the company.
The experience offered a lesson Cindy says she still lives by: “Get up every morning and just show up,” she said. “Just show up, even if you don’t know what you’re going to do once you get there, even if you don’t know how you’re going to solve your problems. Just show up, and Wednesday will become Thursday, and Thursday will become Friday, and things will move on.”
Their new Oleavicin line of all-natural, FDA-approved salves and gels — which you can buy online and at Walmart stores all over the U.S. — are made from the same olives that have been in the family for decades and were created by searching for solutions to family medical issues.
When son Craig developed a lingering cold sore in college, Cindy discovered that the leaves of the olive plant could be used as an herbal remedy. And when Cindy came down with shingles, she used another home treatment made with olive leaves. “So we said, ‘Oh, here we go again. The olives keep following us around,’” she laughed.
The family’s history and knowledge of the business doesn’t go unappreciated in their community. “We’ve kind of become like grandma and grandpa mentors to all kinds of people,” Cindy said. She’s also a captain at the humane society and cares for a proverbial farm’s worth of pets: cats, chickens — one of which escaped and was subsequently captured during our interview — and a 105-year-old tortoise.
“Every day is kind of an adventure,” she said. “That’s how all three of us look at it. We’ll take the plunge and we’ll just try … we’re not afraid to fail. And if you’re not afraid to fail, then you have a really good chance of succeeding.”