Olives have been around for thousands of years. If you are a fan of these tiny green fruits, you may not know that some of Spain’s best olives were bottled in Tampa!
Greeks were the first to cultivate the olive tree around 3500 BC on the island of Crete. By 2000 BC, cultivation was extensive, with exports to mainland Greece, Northern Africa, and Asia Minor.
The olive tree symbolized peace, wisdom, and triumph for the ancient Greeks. Olympic athletes in Greece were massaged with olive oil and believed that three gifts of the gods would be acquired–wisdom, power, and strength. They also used olive oil to heal wounds and cure many ailments, including insomnia, nausea, cholera, and ulcers.
You will find many references to olives and olive oil in the Bible. The Book of Genesis speaks of the dove that was let loose by Noah. The dove later returned with an olive branch in its mouth, indicating the symbol of peace and the end of God’s anger. In the Book of Exodus, God tells Moses how to make an anointing oil of spices and olive oil. During the consecration, holy anointing oil was poured over the heads of kings and priests.
So, when Salvatore Chillura Reina started his olive business here in Tampa, one has to wonder if he somehow knew the magical power of olives and their oil.
Salvatore Chillura Reina was born on December 11, 1882, in Santo Stefano Quisquina, Sicily, to Ignazio and Giuseppina (Chillura) Reina, who were farmers. He came to Tampa in 1903, could not speak English, and needed employment. He was given a job driving a mule cart for his uncle’s wholesale feed and grocery business, Reina Brothers Company. When he was 21, he left briefly to try his hand at rolling cigars but eventually returned to his uncle’s business, where he worked as a dispatcher.
In 1938, he started the Sevilla Olive Company in Ybor City. The business imported olive oil, maraschino cherries, and olives from Spain. Freighters shipped Olives directly to Tampa, where they arrived packed in brine inside man-made wooden casks ready for bottling. Women workers used colanders to dip olives from the barrel and place them on steel trays to be sorted. Steel prongs were then used to select the olives. The prongs had a spring release allowing the olive packer to release the olive and place it attractively in a jar. Each worker packed approximately 40 jars a day.
The olives, cherries, and olive oil were labeled “Silvia & Marti.” The company also imported La Estrella Guava Paste and other products. They were first located on 8th Avenue in Ybor City behind the Kress Building but later moved to 2601 2nd Avenue. Sevilla Olive Packing became one of Florida’s most successful wholesale grocery and import firms in a short period.
Salvatore married Maria Spoto in 1908. She was a native of Casteltermini, Sicily, and the daughter of Michele and Pietra (Caltagirone) Spoto. Together they had three sons, Alfred, Ernest, and Hugo, who eventually worked in the business with their father.
Salvatore passed away in 1979 at 97 after a long legacy of involvement in his community. He came to America as many Sicilian immigrants did in early 1900, looking for opportunity and a way to support his family. Salvatore Chillura Reina will always be remembered as one of Tampa’s early pioneers who contributed much to our city’s rich heritage. An excerpt from a story about him in 1949 in Il Volte D’Italia described him well: Salvatore Reina, we can well affirm, belongs to those heroic immigrants whose coming marked the dawn of Italian contributions to the culture of the Stellar Republic. The life of this gentleman of our race has all been spent amid honest commercial endeavor, with his family and in doing good works…his name is known everywhere as a symbol of excellent products and of honesty.
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
MARILYN L. FIGUEREDO
Marilyn was Cigar City Magazine's co-owner and managing editor until her passing in 2007. Marilyn was born in 1948 in Tampa, where she lived her entire life and, more specifically, her early childhood in Ybor City. After a successful 30-year career at Delta Air Lines, Marilyn embarked on what became her true passion: reinvigorating the colorful, multicultural history of Ybor City through the lives and personal stories of the families and individuals who made up the uniqueness of this Tampa quarter. She did this primarily through Cigar City Magazine, serving on various committees and organizations, and attending cultural events throughout Tampa. Her work alongside her niece Lisa Figueredo, founder and Publisher, was instrumental in producing Cigar City Magazine.
Marilyn's legacy will live forever throughout the pages of Tampa's first historical magazine–CigarCityMagazine
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