Alumni Spotlight: Amber Christensen Fullmer
B.A. Sociology ’03
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Fun Fact: Her oldest son starts in the civil engineering program at UAA this year.
Alaska grown Amber Christensen Fullmer spent 13 years working in law enforcement as a probation officer in both Alaska and Colorado before deciding it was time to try something new. “I was burnt out,” she admits.
Last November, with the support of her husband and kids, she opened Amber’s Olive Company, selling top-quality olive oils, balsamic vinegars and an array of complementary products from Alaska producers, like barley flour from Delta Junction, honey from the Valley and pickled salmon and halibut from an Anchorage company.
So how did she make the leap from probation officer to entrepreneur?
“There was a store like this that we used to go to in Colorado,” Amber says. “The last time we went, I was really bummed out because we weren’t going to have access to it anymore.”
A military family, they were stationed in Colorado until just last year when they made the move to Alaska—home for Amber, but a new world for her husband, a Californian.
Her husband, who holds master’s degrees in business administration and emergency management, encouraged her to think big, saying, “You know, you could do this,” referring to the olive oil and balsamic vinegar store.
Amber’s first thought was, “No way!” She didn’t think she had the education to be an entrepreneur, but once she got the ball rolling, she was surprised at how applicable a background in sociology and psychology can be in building and running a business, from location selection to customer relations and advertising.
She paid one more visit to the Boulder store and got contact information for Veronica Foods < http://www.evoliveoil.com/ >, the company whose Delizia products they sell. “After a really bad day at work, I emailed them,” she says. “Five minutes later, I got a call back from the owner and found out it wasn’t a franchise. You would be locally owned.” But they were willing to help her get set up.
Amber was already familiar with their products, having used them in her own kitchen for years in everything from gourmet pastas and salads to the fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market that she canned at home.
In fact, some of the lucky judges at the Alaska State Fair this year may get to taste some of her jams made with balsamic vinegar.
“You have to crank the acidity up for preserves,” she says. “The acidity in balsamic is perfect and it adds a whole other layer of flavor. I have one in my fridge right now that’s peach ginger. I also have a really, really blueberry, an apple raspberry and a cranberry.”
Right now Amber is focused on connecting her new business with gourmet food lovers in Alaska. Having a presence at the local farmer’s markets helps. She’s partnered with Wine Styles, another local business, to do joint tastings for charity events.
Some of her customers particularly enjoy hosting their own tasting parties, either in their own homes or at the store. It’s a chance for Amber to educate more people about quality and process.
The difference between the Delizia olive oils, which are sourced directly from growers in California, Spain, Portugal and Greece, just to name a few, and, say, the grocery store brand olive oils on store shelves is night and day, according to Amber.
Did you know olive oil loses much of its health benefits after one year? Me neither. “Look for a crush date on your label, rather than an expiration date,” Amber says.
Or stop by Amber’s Olive Company in the Dimond Center where she and her oldest son, Brandon, a freshman at UAA, will show you around and let you taste for yourself. Much like the Bear Tooth and Moose’s Tooth growlers, Amber’s Olive Co. sells you a bottle on your first visit that you can wash and bring back for a discounted refill.
Between Amber and Brandon, they keep the store running seven days a week. Asked what he thinks about working with his mom, Brandon says with a smile, “I like it, but the hours kind of suck.” Once the business gets a little more established, they’ll be able to bring more help on board, Amber explains, but she’s relishing the time with Brandon and her younger son and daughter, who come by the store and visit.
Amber isn’t one to flinch when it comes to long hours and hard work. She was a young mom when she first started classes at UAA while also working graveyard shifts at McLaughlin Youth Center as a counselor.
Did she have a secret for juggling work, school and family? “I was young and it didn’t hurt me as much to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning and get back up at 6 in the morning,” she laughs. “I don’t think I could do it now.”
She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to UAA in the future, though. “I have a definite interest in going back and getting my Ph.D. I know UAA has a clinical-community psychology program now, but I’m not ready to jump in yet,” she says.
“I’m enjoying doing this. I’m enjoying seeing my kids more, because I can bring them here with me.”
For cooks who need some new recipe ideas, Amber shares some winners on her company’s Facebook page < https://www.facebook.com/AmbersOliveCompany >. Most recently, fava bean pesto pizza and serrano honey-glazed steak made an appearance. Yum!
She also keeps a stack of Laurie Constantino’s book, Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, < http://www.laurieconstantino.com/> on her store shelves and says it’s a customer favorite. A little later this year, Laurie will be back at the store for a cooking demonstration as well.
“We work really hard to be part of the community as much as we can,” Amber says.
This fearless alum went from law enforcement to entrepreneur, is rocking Alaska’s foodie subculture and is excited to grow her business. If you’re needing a reason to stop by and say hi to your fellow Seawolves, Amber and Brandon, coming soon to store shelves, are gourmet chocolates made with Delizia olive oil. Happy tasting!