Exchange student launches business with former host
Orontes d'Antioch proprietors Bazar Kutlu and Allan Forsythe. The start-up company regularly sets up a day booth at the North Market but its Turkish olive oil products and soap now are available online and at several local merchants, including Meza Wine Shop, Hills Market, Weiland's Gourmet Market, Cardone's restaurant and Karavan. Buy This Photo
Bazar Kutlu, a native of Turkey, first came to Westerville as a foreign exchange student in 2004, living for a time with Westerville residents Allan and Carol Forsythe.
The Forsythes, who had lived in Turkey for five years in the 1960s, stayed in touch with Kutlu over the years, visiting her in Turkey and inviting her back to their home, as they did with most of the Rotary Youth Exchange international exchange students they had hosted in the past.
When Kutlu returned to Westerville in 2011, she had a master's degree in business in hand and an idea for Allan Forsythe: to create a business importing goods from Turkey.
Forsythe, a longtime businessman, took to the idea.
The two settled on olive oil, the production of which is a major industry in Kutlu's home, near Antioch.
"The olive oil comes from where I live, 45 minutes from where I grew up," Kutlu said. "I said, 'We have olive oil; let's go with that.' "
From there, the two worked to create Orontes d'Antioch, selling olive oil and complementary spices, along with oil-based soaps handmade in Turkey.
The two bonded over their work and serve as 50-50 partners in the company, with Kutlu serving as the CEO and Forsythe as vice president.
They acknowledge they're an odd business pairing, with a 50-year age difference.
"We're not just business partners; we have a father-daughter relationship," Forsythe said.
"It is a family business," Kutlu added.
In establishing the business, Kutlu and Forsythe forged relationships with their suppliers, creating their own olive-oil blend and finding ways to support the local economy.
The olives are picked by locals, and the soaps, as well as the handmade wooden boxes the products come in, are handmade in Turkey's Antioch region.
"We didn't want just a product on the shelf; we wanted to have some social significance," Forsythe said.
Since launching the business in October, the pair has worked to market it locally.
It's available online through their own website and through Amazon, but the two also set up a day booth regularly at the North Market and sell their products via local businesses, including Meza Wine Shop, Hills Market, Weiland's Gourmet Market, Cardone's restaurant and Karavan.
The olive oil also was picked up by a woman who sells a variety of olive oils in Florida and New York.
Forsythe and Kutlu now plan to focus on growing their business by building their products' presence in central Ohio and expanding to other parts of Ohio, they said.
They said they're working to get the word out about Turkish olive oil, which has a more delicate and less bitter taste than the Italian olive oil Americans are used to, they said, and the Antioch region often is credited as the origin of olive oil.
"(Antioch) is the only city in the world where the street lamps were once fueled by olive oil," Kutlu said. "This is a region with a long history of olive oil.
"I want people to know that Turkish olive oil is as good or better than Italian olive oil."