Our club's weekly meetings often feature fascinating speakers who contribute to our community.  Recently, we welcomed Michael Basile (third from right) of Catania Oils, a 4th-generation company located in Ayer.Michael Basile with Rotarians

In the early 1900’s, Giuseppe Basile came to the United States from Sicily with a dream: to build his olive oil business in the land of opportunity. He traveled to New York with 22 barrels of oil – all of which were destroyed during a storm at sea. He arrived at Ellis Island broke and not able to speak any English. Still, he persisted in pursuing his dream, eventually moving to Lynn where he replaced his inventory and began packing oil as Basile Packing in a rented store. He sold olive oil door-to-door in the local communities, eventually selling to families and businesses in the North End.

In 1933, Giuseppe’s son Joseph and his brothers Carmen and Frank joined the business. When Giuseppe passed away in 1941, Joseph, who at the time was 24 years old, was tasked with the responsibility of leading the family business. Determined to fulfill his father’s legacy and dream, Joseph and his brothers would pack the oil every day, load up the truck and head out. Today, the company Giuseppe started has grown into a multi-million dollar global industry known as Catania Oils and his great-grandchildren are running the business.

Michael Basile was our guest speaker last Thursday and he shared how he joined the family business when he was just 14. His grandfather, he said, “instilled a strong work ethic in all of us,” as the elder Basile insisted that the children learn the olive oil business from the ground up.

In his first role as a Catania employee, Michael pushed a broom in the factory, later drove a fork lift, followed by years in production and back office. Education was important to the family and Michael earned his degree at night. Michael is one of four siblings, all of whom are in the family business, strategically located throughout the olive oil empire. His father is Catania Oil’s CEO.

The company started in Lynn, but moved throughout Boston in the 1960’s, eventually moving to Ayer in 1994. “We had to locate the company on rail, and needed space to grow,” Michael said.  The space they initially purchased expanded several times as the company grew. Today, Catania has 170 employees in its 75,000 square foot facility.

Catania has four different distribution chains: retail, food service, bulk manufacturing and export. Catania provides oil for many different store brands, and also provides cooking oil for major restaurant chains, such as Capital Grill and Ruth's Chris. They deliver to food manufacturers such as Utz chips and Gorton Fisheries. Michael noted that almost every food in a grocery store contains oil, and “90% of it comes from Catania.” This year, the company will produce 470 million pounds of vegetable oil. (Fun fact:  We learned  that vegetable oil is priced by the pound and olive oil is priced by the gallon.)