Note: This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of community spotlight pieces where we feature inspiring stories of local entrepreneurs and community members. If you know somebody you believe should be featured, let us know!

From the moment I walked into the Staunton Olive Oil Company in Staunton’s historic downtown, I felt welcome and appreciated, as if I had walked into a close family member’s home. A friendly smile greeted me, welcomed me to the shop, and asked if I had been in before. Upon learning it was my first visit, the friendly greeter took me on a tour of the store, highlighting a few of her favorite oils and vinegar, recommending I give them a try.

This friendly face who greeted me so warmly was not Michelle Gallaugher, the focus of this entrepreneur spotlight and proprietor of the Staunton Olive Oil Company, it was Michelle’s mom, MaryEllen. This initial, unscripted interaction with MaryEllen set the stage for much of what I came to understand over the next 90 minutes about Michelle and how she came to be a successful entrepreneur.

The most important thing in Michelle’s life is not her business or possessions, it is her family.

Michelle grew up in Central Florida, the oldest of two siblings. She and her younger brother were raised by a single mom, MaryEllen, who taught them by example what it means to be strong and independent. The family grew up very close. To this day, Michelle maintains that deep ties to her family are the most important things in her life. When I ask Michelle about what has shaped her life the most, it takes no times at all to answer – her mother.  She describes her mom as tenacious, strong, and (although she’d never say it about herself) independent. Her mother was a nurse, a natural caregiver, and an instrumental force in Michelle’s life.

Michelle and her Mom, MaryEllen

During her teenage years, Michelle worked a few jobs but was never truly passionate about any of them. They were always just a way to make money, something she did to get by. When she was contemplating career choices, she only ever dreamed of being a mom. She pursued nursing partly to follow her mother’s example and, also, because she found it to be a natural outlet for her giving and nurturing personality.

Michelle’s proudest accomplishments are her two children.

Michelle’s proudest accomplisments are her children, a son who is 19 and in the Army and 16-year-old daughter who attends Stuarts Draft High School and helps at the shop when she’s not in school.

Her husband is also an entrepreneur, running his own business cleaning windows.

Michelle and her Husband

Michelle believes her Christian faith has been key not only in helping her succeed but also having a joy that transcends her circumstances.

Michelle is a Christian and believes her faith has been key in helping her not only succeed, but to have a joy that transcends her circumstances, whether good or bad. In her free time, Michelle enjoys CrossFit, relaxing by the water, and spending time with what is most important to her – the people she loves.

An unlikely entrepreneur, it was Michelle’s father who urged her to consider going down this path. Due to some personal health issues, Michelle began making some major lifestyle changes, especially related to her diet. Once she realized how beneficial the changes were, her passion for caregiving kicked in and she wanted to share the benefits of cooking with oils and vinegar to help others improve their health and quality of life.

Her business concept took off quickly and with the help of some friends from CrossFit she located the perfect storefront for her business in downtown Staunton. Initially, she kept her nursing job while opening her business but this quickly led to problems so she decided to take the plunge. She walked away from her stable nursing income and fully devoted herself to her family and the oil business full-time.

Entrepreneurship has given Michelle a fulfilled family life in a way her nursing career never did.

Running her own business has given her the opportunity to be there for her children’s activities and have a fulfilled family life in a way that her nursing career never did, which makes it worth all the stress and headaches that come with being an entrepreneur.

Michelle has had her share of battles and setbacks, including the health problems (previously mentioned) and a house fire back in 2012. Through it all though, she believes that no matter what challenges she may face, her Christian faith and her love for family will ultimately help her through the most difficult of times. Relationships come first for her, which is clearly evident in the way she runs her business. Her employees are hand chosen from family members and close friends. Michelle and each of her employees have an unwavering commitment to building relationships with each person that walks through the shop door.

Michelle’s story is one of learning as she went along and pursuing her passion.

Michelle didn’t know much about business going into it. Her story is one of learning as she went along and pursuing her passions despite setbacks. One baby step at a time, she was able to go from a mom and a nurse to a business owner.

Many times, mothers give so much to their children and family that it’s hard to see themselves as anything more than “just” a mom. However, Michelle would tell you that you don’t have to be anything that you aren’t. She didn’t have any formal business training before she started looking into opening her business. She learned everything as she went along, simply pursuing what she found meaningful and following her passion.

So, what would Michelle tell other would-be entrepreneurs, even of the unlikely sort? In her words:

“It’s not about you. If you can find a way to go beyond yourself, reach out to the community around you, care for people, and have a product or service that you truly believe in…then you can build what you never thought was possible.

As entrepreneurs, it can be easy to get lost in the problems we face. However, never lose sight of the people around you that are helping you achieve your goals. We’re not an island. We’re meant to be in relationships.”

In the end, that’s what most of us really want anyway: close relationships, and to make an impact that goes beyond ourselves. Michelle’s story is a reminder to pursue what is most important to you. Although it may be hard work, and you may face setbacks, becoming an entrepreneur offers the flexibility and joy that comes from pursuing what is most important to you.

Let Michelle’s success serve as a reminder to all of us – find your passion, figure out what is most important to you, and then don’t be afraid to chase your dreams. As motivational speaker Eric Thomas says, “at the end of pain is success.”

Are you working hard to make a difference in the community? Do you have a story others should hear? Contact Valley Inbound today and let us know!