Monday, December 21, 2009

Slowly but surely

Not a whole lot to report as 2009 comes to a close, but I feel an update is in order nevertheless. First off, I've gotten many an email asking about an opening date. This is pretty difficult to pin down at the moment, as anyone starting a new business will know, but I'm shooting for mid-late Februrary or possibly the beginning of March. I'm doing everything in my power to make it happen as quickly as possible, but with so much of the work out of my mongering hands, there is a lot of thumb-sitting to be done. Ouch!

The past two weeks have been full of meeting with my architect, the building's architect, fretting, incessantly wiping sweaty palms, more meetings, you get the idea. This week I've been torpedoed back into junior high as I stare at the phone waiting for that special call from a certain boy, except that instead of the geeky loner who's more interested in comic books than girls, it's my autocad drafter I'm pining for.

Soon enough I'll have final plans in hand and will be ready to make possibly the most important walk of my life down to the DPD for a simple bit of ink blottered onto dried pulp that is the green light I need to make real things happen. From there, I'm sure there will be more similarly exciting yarns to spin, but until then dear cheese loving readers, have yourselves a wonderful holiday season and I'll see you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

1531 Melrose Ave.

It is official, The Calf & Kid has a home!! Thanks to all of the amazing support of friends, family, my investors, and so many more to helped me make this happen. Special thanks to the awesome folks at The Capitol Hill Blog for their continued support and free press.

As many of you know, this has been a long time coming, 2 years to be exact. I often marvel at my neighboring neighborhood entrepreneurs who seemingly erect new businesses in a matter of minutes. I hope that they also went through some of the agonizing knuckle-biting that I have in this process, because it is no easy feat. My nose is now affixed to the proverbial grindstone now, so updates may be short and sweet, but no doubt chock full of all the glamorous events that budding cheesemongers are known for, like ordering business checks and signing up for state certified food handling courses. Ah, I can taste my celebrity cheese status already...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Home, sweet home!

I've been neglecting this blog, I admit, out of nothing but pure fear. Yes, dear readers, I was, for a while, absolutely terrified of securing the amazing space I've been coveting at the new Melrose Project. I have been similarly scared when attempting to secure the other half dozen spaces I've blogged about - but isn't that half the fun?
Let's just say, The Calf & Kid is about to have a new home!

While papers are being printed and signatures awaiting fresh ink, this space is mine, and I cannot even begin to express how insanely happy I am to be a part of this new space.

Anyone who's been reading (and if you haven't, then slog through the last few posts), knows the awesome location of the shop, and I don't need to repeat my love of my new neighbors-to-be, Sitka and Spruce, Terra Plata, Sonic Boom, not to mention a local butcher, florist, and more.

I am beyond plussed at this moment, knowing I will share this coveted marketplace with so many amazing Seattle small business owners. For now I am off for one last weekend away before commencing the nose-to-the-grindstone that will be opening.
In the meantime keep your eyes peeled for Calf & Kid opening festivities!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The past month has involved a lot of sitting around waiting, and it looks like November will provide much of the same. I'm not very good at biding time, but I'm confident that in the vein of "good things come to those who wait", I'm quietly twitterpated about the new space I'm looking to secure in The Melrose Project.

This new development has already gotten a lot of press, and while I don't want to get too ahead of myself, it's pretty much a sure thing that The Calf & Kid will be laying roots in this amazing space. Not only will it be home to my hands-down favorite Seattle restaurant of all time, Sitka and Spruce, but I will also be sharing common market space with a butcher - oh how I have longed for a good local butcher! - a small florist, and others. I'm simply plussed.

In the meantime I'm working on a dozen little things that can be done ahead of time, and reflecting on how long it's taken me to get here, from playing with the idea of a cheese shop over 2 years ago to now, it seems like an awfully long time. I have to admit I was very self-conscious about the fact that my projections for an opening date repeatedly moved back, and back, and then back some more. It seems like all around me small businesses crop up in no time at all, but in my case every corner I turned seemed to add on months of time suckage. But then again, that is just my pace in this endeavor. I refuse to rush anything so important as this, and that has resulted in favorable outcomes that I never could have forseen more than a few times. I'm not saying that anyone else looking into opening a cheese shop, or any small business for that matter, should consider my experience that standard - the process is surely different for everyone. While I don't consider myself a spiritual person in any sense, I can't help but think of Ralph Emerson's quote about the Zen philosophy of the journey:

"The voyage of the best ship is the zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency."

Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better for making so many sideways steps towards my ultimate goal; maybe I'm actually working in a way that will help me achieve sustainability as a businesswoman. Maybe the fact that the closest I get to meditation is scribbling on a bar napkin after several beers. Whatever it is, it feels right, I'm constantly getting reassurance from my fellow Seattlites that I'm doing the right thing, and for now that's enough to keep me going.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ooh La La!

Seattlites, friends, cheeselovers! Start practicing your best/worst French accent and join C&K and Poco Wine Room this Sunday for a very special cheese and wine pairing celebrating the best that fall has to offer: les produits de Francias!

The Calf & Kid and Poco Wine Room present: La Campagne, a celebration of the French countryside.

We promise some delightful surprises in store for this tasting event, including pours from some of the best bottles of Burgundy, concoctions avec fromage from the Poco Wine Room kitchen, and of course, the most delectable cheese this side of the Pacific.

Vive la fromage!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The past few weeks have been very trying, and after hours of wringing my hands and pulling hair, alas the bank is just not going to give me a loan. I must say, through this process of starting up a small business, I never in my wildest dreams thought that securing a minimal amount of financing from the bank would be such an ulcerating experience. Certainly all banks are cutting way back on their small business lending these days, and of those they are still granting, startup's are at the bottom of the totem pole. But I still thought that upon bringing in more than 75% of my total startup expenses, having excellent credit and a kickass business plan, would put me in good stead to acquire the piddly amount left over to cover my proposed budget. In my case, it all came down to collateral, namely not owning property.

However, this time is seriously nigh for me to make this happen no matter what. Where there's a will there's a way, right? My amazing and supportive husband has often brought me out of financial woe by encouraging me to summon my inner Pitbull, and so with the tenacity of a dog that doesn't take no for an answer, I'm gearing up for plan B.

I always knew it was a good thing to create my budget and financial forecasts for the most expensive space I could find, and leave more than enough cash on hand for padding. So with the generous help of my investors and new members of The Calf & Kid, I am moving forward full steam ahead. Luckily there are multiple commercial spaces in Seattle that are small, modest, and still centrally located in Capitol Hill. I'll be looking at one of them tomorrow, may the cheese gods be with me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Twiddling thumbs

I've found myself with less and less time to blog or tweet about happenings with the shop lately. This is a good thing, it means I'm so busy running around making things happen that I can almost taste the sweet, cheesy aroma of The Calf & Kid.

I'm extremely happy to report that the first tasting event at Poco Wine Room was a smashing success. Peter Moore, proprietor and overall awesome dude was batting his A game out of ball park along with myself, a fabulous selection of cheese, wine, and amazing foodies. I was literally flushed throughout the event; I'm still amazed that we managed to sell out and then some, to a crowd of enraptured cheese and wine lovers who are hungry for more! Peter and I had so much fun, it could hardly be called work, and we are already gearing up for the next tasting event in late October, "La Campagne", a celebration of French wine and cheese. Vive la fromage!

In the meantime, I'm playing the waiting game on the legal/paperwork front, and I've been shopping around town for equipment and supplies - not buying yet, just pricing. I'm very happy to report that it looks like I'll be able to furnish the entire shop with used materials. Thank you Seattle, for being so green-friendly! There are multiple salvage warehouses with oodles of doors, counters and tops, shelving, etc., and not only does it make a difference in the amount of new items not being produced for my sake, but it's cheap, so incredibly cheap! I'm also very lucky to have a good friend who's one of those amazing gals who can look at some dilapidated piece of junk and see the potential in it to look fabulous with a little refinishing and a fresh coat of paint. Oh, and I can even buy green surplus paint for a fraction of the cost!

Back to geeking out on surplus websites all evening....

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brow wiping

Whew! The past week has been a flurry of wrapping up details for the premier cheese and wine tasting at Poco Wine Room. We sold almost 3/4 of our available slots before the weekend was over, and just today we are officially sold out! I couldn't be happier. We are already planning the theme for October's event, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.

I've also been doing the investor dance with the small group wonderful individuals who are putting forth their heartfelt commitment, and opening their wallets, to help make The Calf & Kid a reality. Hopefully this week will see us signing paperwork and taking the final plunge.

Now it's on to pricing equipment - thankfully there is a lot of great used stuff out there in this economy - and putting a little fire under my own ass to keep things moving as swiftly as possible, permits be damned.

Otherwise, I am taking full advantage of the moments I have here and there to sit and reflect on the journey that has taken me to this point so far. Overall, I have to say that I constantly count my blessings and thank all the people who have given me advice, contacts, contacts of contacts, and especially all the support I've received from cheese lovers everywhere. The Seattle community has stood up for their love of cheese, and one way or another I will deliver!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

tick tick tock

The waiting game, I've never been good at it.

In the past few weeks, nothing and everything has been happening. Momentum has picked up on the front of finding investors (yay!), and steps towards securing a micro-loan to make up for the fact that I'm not eligible for a SBA loan. Contractors are busy bees putting bids together for build out on the space and for a little bit there I was feeling caught up in it and sure that I could work my butt off to make the shop open before the holiday season. Today I received a good dose of red tape reality from the DPD; they are saying 6-8 weeks before my permit for construction will be approved because it has to go through the health department. A little lesson to all those out there who are thinking of opening up shop eh? Not that I could have done much about this anyway, seeing as the intention of locking down a space is what gets one to the point of needing to secure such permits. Anyhoo, just another minor setback, I'm trying my hardest not to let it get me down. Hell, that's just another month or so of continued cheese tasting!

Another, more important bit of news is that my good friend Mike of Royal Magnethas been working for cheese to design the new logo for the Calf & Kid. Below are two mock up's; they're pretty different and I love both of them, so now's the time for cheese geeks everywhere to give me some feedback! Which one do you like and why? You can email or comment or however you choose to spew your opinions, just do it in the next week because I've got to lock down this baby for the tasting at Poco Wine Room next week.
It's up to you, Seattle and beyond!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

as the saying goes...

... when it rains, it certainly does pour! Hard to believe that a mere week ago I was chewing the tips of my fingers in worry over financing for the shop. Now, in such a short space of time, I find myself with multiple investors and I do believe I am beginning to round the top of the great first hill of the roller coaster that is this adventure into small business ownership.

Now is the time for counting eggs, which I'm not want to do, but I feel there's a time for it in any entrepreneural endeavor. The money is forthcoming, lawyers are doing their little dance, so in the meantime I am moving forward doing everything I can to ready preparations on the space, contracting, etc. so that I can make this whirlwind take shape in the form of opening in November, just in time for holiday shopping. I am so incredibly grateful for everyone who has helped me out thus far, be it in the form of free press, investing in my dream, giving moral support along the way, to even offering blood, sweat and tears when it's needed in exchange for cheese. If only I could pay everyone off in curds and whey!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thanks, hiccups, and lucky stars

My previous post asking for the wonderful people of Seattle to rally for the Calf & Kid thankfully fell on many open ears and watchful eyes. In a matter of hours I received emails from a small handful of people who are interested in the prospect of my entreprenueal venture, and already I've got a meeting with one of them this weekend to speak in person and hash out details. I won't say that anything is a go at this point, but I am so very grateful for so many supporters out there who re-tweeted my plea, sent me encouraging emails, and generally helped me keep my head above water in a time when it would be so very easy to let myself sink into a small pit of dismay, avec a block of Brie de Nagis. As it is, I only ate half of it, and my cholesterol thanks you all.

In the meantime, I've been making a list of people to thank for their upfront efforts to keep the word out there and help build anticipation in the form of a little free press about the shop. Namely, the good folks at CHS blog and Seattle Metropolitan Magazine. Representatives from both publications approached me a few weeks back for informal interviews, and you can read them online now:

CHS profile on Sheri LaVigne
Seattle Mag's Nosh Pit

I'm crossing fingers and toes that the setback of losing an investor is merely a hiccup in the process of making my dream de fromage come true.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Decompressing from ACS

It is really difficult to put into words the experience I had at ACS last week. My head is still reeling a little from all of the amazing people I met, the bounty of great information I absorbed, not to mention the nights of plentiful cheese and beers with new friends and colleagues.

In a nutshell, making the decision to go to this conference was one of the best I've made yet. I know now that this yearly excursion will be one that I always make the time and money for, no doubt about it. During the Becoming a Cheesemonger seminar back in June, I remember Steve Jones saying that every year he agonizes over the cost of going, and by the time he's on his flight home, he wonders how he ever could have questioned the choice to do so. I can't agree enough; by the time I was making my trek back to Seattle a few days ago, I was so full of cheese love that I couldn't stop from smiling to myself.

Seminars I attended were all good, ranging from those that confirmed a lot of the ideas I already had, to those that opened my eyes to so many new possibilities for this venture. Notably, Ari Weizenberg of Zingerman's gave a rousing talk of customer service and the incredibly important role it plays in anything food related. The Affinage seminar was affing-awesome, especially getting to hear Mateo Keleher of Jasper Hill's Farm, and of course the Cellars at Jasper Hill, talk about the great undertaking of creating a state-of-the-art cheese cellar in Vermont. Grassroots Marketing was a huge highlight; Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground and Ken Monteleone of Fromagination were both refreshingly progressive voices of the Wisconsin movement towards Artisan cheese culture (which in my mind is automatically inclusive of Grassroots marketing). There were many more but I can't possibly wax even the slightest bit poetic on each one or you'll be reading this post for the next hour.

Each session I attended left me more elated and jazzed, and the momentum was simply contagious. After a few days everyone seemed to feel more comfortable, conversations started quickly and organically with just about everyone I literally bumped into as we rushed around to attend to our various commitments. I did sort of find "my people" within a very small but motley crew of other hopeful cheesemongers, and we had a great time reconnecting for post-conference beers in the Texas heat, sharing what we'd gathered from our experiences of the day. One of the best things about a conference centered on your passion is meeting the many people who are right there with you. Bonding through sharing experiences, thoughts, reflections, and naturally a lot of alcohol (we are all on a tad bit of vacation after all!) is just as important and worthwhile as the formal education of seminars led by the professionals in the field.

I am eagerly awaiting next year's ACS conference, which will take place here in lovely Seattle. I am in the process of figuring out how my presence can and will be an instrumental part of this yearly gathering of cheese fiends. Naturally, you will all be privy to that as is comes to fruition.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cheese in the Heart of Texas

I can't believe it's already the last day of the ACS conference. The past three days have been an absolute whirlwind of cheese tasting, networking, and packing my brain with more information than I'd thought possible. I'm still mentally distilling this experience for my own blogging purposes, so in the meantime please take in the musings of a few fellow cheese geeks who have kept it together enough to write fabulous bits on conference happenings:

Cheese Underground

Cheese and Champagne

Musing and photos to come, but tonight, The Festival of Cheeses!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Feelin' the love

I was talking to a friend last night about the blog, and she was asking how often I update it. "Well, it all depends, usually not much unless I have some news or something is happening." Then I went on to tell her a slew of little things that are on the horizon, and even though they're not necessarily anything all that big, I woke up this morning wondering why the hell I hadn't been updating them here? Point being, I'm not great at updating but I'm now making a vested effort to be better about it.

Last week I had a quick, fruitful meeting with Peter of Poco Wine Room. Last year I met with him simply to get his story about starting up a new small business, which he was happy to share. Little did I know there was a great relationship opportunity right under my nose; Peter is incredibly sweet, down to earth, and has been very excited about what I'm doing. He also does an excellent job with Poco, I have found his rotating wine selections to be consistently impressive, and it's clear that he loves what he's doing. So a month or so ago, when it became clear that I wasn't going to be opening shop for yet a few more months at the least, I propositioned him to partner with me in co-hosting some wine and cheese pairings at the bar. It's a real win-win situation; I get to do what I love, talk about cheese to a group of food lovers, and at the same time get my name out there before I've opened shop. Peter gets to do what he loves, talk about wine and bring more customers into his space. We both agreed it's a real no-brainer. So with that we have slated the first cheese and wine pairing event to take place on Thursday, September 17th. Naturally details to come as we get closer to the date.

In the meantime, I'm getting ridiculously jazzed for the American Cheese Society conference next week in Austin, TX. I was originally going to wait to attend this annual event until next year, when it will be held in Seattle, but this year's even focuses on retail and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to gain even more knowledge before I take the big plunge. There I'll be soaking up the advice of experts from all around the country on retail strategies, affinage, serving and pairing, the list goes on. Not to mention getting to taste hundreds of cheeses! I'm also tickled pink to meet many of the personalities I've become familiar with on twitter in person. Nothing gets me going like being surrounded by a bunch of fellow cheese geeks.

Upon my return home, I'll be getting down to the nitty-gritty of finalizing my SBA loan, crossing t's and dotting i's with my lawyer, and hopefully by September I'll be hitting the ground running. It's all happening so fast, yet at the same time I'm way off my original schedule, which is something I've come to learn is completely ok. Yesterday I had a long conversation with one of my mentors and biggest supporters, my incredible mother in law, and I had to revel a little at the arc this journey has taken that I never could have predicted. Probably the best piece of advice I got in the beginning was from a fellow small business owner, who gravely warned me against getting stuck on anything specific in terms of how this would all come to fruition. I took his advice to heart, and it has kept me open and flexible to all of these amazing opportunities that in one way are far from me actually opening the shop, but at the same time are moving me towards my goal of eventually owning a business that will succeed and sustain because of the foundation I'm building now. It's already one wild ride...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

aah, the good old farmlife

Back from my week of sheep cheesery goodness at Black Sheep Creamery, still soaking it all in. For or your viewing pleasure, a photo tour of my week.

I can't believe how much I learned in just one week. Naturally, having never made cheese before, my learning curve was pretty substantial, but even so I felt like a sponge just soaking up every minute of it. Days were long and packed with milking, herding sheep, making tons of cheese, and cleaning cleaning cleaning. Brad joked in an interview once that he often spends more time cleaning up than actually making the cheese, and it's entirely true. In fact, a lot of cheesemaking is pretty much a hurry up and wait game. Milk heats for 30 min. or more and when it reaches a precise temperature starter is added, then wait again for a very specific amount of time before adding rennet, then wait again and closely monitor the coagulation so the curds are sifted out just at the right time. I can see it becoming a pretty zen process, and it definitely requires a lot of patience and the personality of someone who doesn't mind a pretty solitary work environment.

Brad is just that in a nutshell, which is one of the many reasons their cheeses are so delicious. He and Meg really put an immense amount of hard work and dedication into their craft, yet they both give off such a relaxed, content vibe I was constantly amazed. They told me all about their experience with the horrible flood a couple of years ago, and I just can't imagine how it must have been to live through that, much less to pick right back up and go on. But as Meg said, that's just what you do in the face of disaster. The experience of getting to know them and their family was just as valuable as getting up close and personal with their cheese. In such a short time they really made me feel like part of the family, and by the time I left I was so comfortable there and just getting into the groove and routine of farmlife that I must admit I was a tad misty-eyed as I drove away.

The really beautiful part of this experience I take away from it is the very intimate connection I now have with these cheeses that I've tasted and loved. Now when I cut into a round of Mopsey's Best (may favorite), I'll think of the farm, and I'll know that I had a first-hand experience in making it, from milking the sheep all the way to brushing that last dust of mold off the rounds before cutting and packing wedges for market. I wish I could have this kind of relationship with every cheese that I sell, and so I'm working into my business model the ability to take one week away every year to work at a dairy. I could easily do it for the rest of my life and never even begin to cross off all the amazing cheeses I love, but it's a start.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Just a quick update from farmland at Black Sheep Creamery, or as I'm calling it, Sheep Camp. Naturally the minute I arrived in Chehalis my laptop decided to croak, so I'm limited to the use of the computers at the local library, which while generous since I'm not paying for it, is endlessly frustrating because I already have half a gig of pictures I'm just dying to post. Alas, they will have to wait until next week, so please check back then for a week in the life of cheesemakers in pictures.

Meg and Brad are amazing; funny, down to earth, at once everything I expected of sheep farmers and yet completely the opposite. Their kids are fun, they have a completely neurotic cattle dog that makes me miss my schnorky doofus even more, a great cat and about 70 of the most awesome sheep ever. My first morning on the farm I helped Brad with the a.m. milking, which involves walking up the road to the rolling green acres that the sheep inhabit, then herding them back to the barn. Of they all know the drill, and they know that milking time means sweet grain, so they are eager to bolt out of the fence and trot and clop their way with very little prodding. No pun intended. Every now and then one of them would stop, stare right at me and let out a forceful "BAAA!" Apparently they enjoy checking out a new person, it was adorable.

The milking process isn't too complicated. It involves hooking up two sheep at a time to the modest milking machine while they inhale their helping of sweet grain. The sheep aren't producing nearly as much as they were a few months ago, so Tuesday morning's yield was a mere 45 lbs. compared to highs of 100 or slightly more back in May and June. With the two of us, milking took about 3 hours, then sheep were herded back to their area to chomp clover and we were back to the milk house to finish pasteurizing many gallons of milk for a new cheese that Brad is trying out. It's a soft Libyan cheese that ages only 3 months with an olive oil brush on the rind. I'm anxious to hear how it turns out, and hopefully it will become something regular.

Wednesday I hit the Portland Farmer's market scene at the Moreland Market. I love talking to people about cheese, even more so when I can hand them a bit of what I'm gushing about, so this was an incredibly fun, albeit exhausting experience. Meg is charming and has many regulars who come by just because they know she'll be there with products promised from last week's market; in this case, fresh unsalted ricotta that I actually made and hung the evening before. I could eat the stuff by the handful, it is so incredibly fresh and just a little sheepy, throw that in a bowl with some fresh berries and mmmmm. Even though I didn't get home until 10 p.m. (and up at 5 a.m. mind you), I couldn't wait to get back today bright and early.

This morning Brad already had the vat full of milk that had just finished pasteurizing, and we got set into making a batch of their Christmas tomme, which is their tomme with green and red peppercorns sprinkled into the pate of the cheese. Set those to press, cleaned everything and did it all over again with they remaining whey for a batch of fresh ricotta. Clean everything again and it was onto hanging 80 lbs. of fresh cheese for packaging tomorrow. Their fresh cheese is just what it sounds like: pasteurized curds and whey that sit for 24 hours, then hang in cheesecloth for another 24 for whey to drain, then mixed with various ingredients on the third day and sold to eager customers. The base has just a little salt for flavor and reminds me of something between a chevre and a really good marscapone. There are a handful of other flavors like Chipotle and Tomato or Dill and Garlic, all of them delicious and it's so much fun to come up with ideas of things to spread them on, for instance, anything that doesn't move.

That's it so far, one quick computer break and I head back to sterilize bottles and make mother starter for the weekend cheese. Vive la brebis!

Friday, July 3, 2009

'Tis the season for cheese tastings

Last night I met with fellow neighborhood business owners Peter and Bart of Poco Wine Room. Months ago when I was interviewing small business owners for information gathering and advice, Peter was very charming and helpful. He was willing to share his story in detail of getting the bar up and running, all the challenges they faced and the successes they celebrated in just 18 months. I knew then that he would be a contact to keep close to, though I wasn't sure exactly how it would all play out, but yet another terrificly sage piece of advice I took home from Steve jones at Cheese Camp was the idea of hosting cheese tastings and events before even opening my shop. Fantastic, I can do this, but I needed someone else to provide the essential space and proper liquor licensing to do so.

So I contacted Peter, telling him I had some ideas to throw at him, and we made a date to meet at Poco and discuss. I got to meet his equally charming life and business partner Bart, and the conversation flowed just as easily as the many glasses of delectable Beaujolais. We talked a lot of shop, I got to practice some of my spiel on Bart, which was great, got a ton of great feedback and a few more references to work with. Then I plunged into my pitch for co-hosting cheese and wine pairings in the bar. Poco is the perfect place for this; not only do they have a wine selection I'm always impressed by, but they have a lovely little upstairs area that is sequestered enough from the main entrance to provide necessary privacy, but just public enough to make other patrons wonder what's going on up there? Peter and Bart were both just as excited as I was about this partnership, and I couldn't be happier.

We will reconvene after I return from my short stint at Sheep Camp this month, and I'm hoping to set a date for the first event in August. We've a lot of details to hammer out, but suffice it to say it will be fun, affordable, full of delicious cheese and wine, and just exclusive enough to make us all feel a little privileged for an evening. Vive la fromage!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Small and Special

This afternoon was spent amongst a hundred or so fellow small business owners and budding entrepreneurs at the first Small and Special conference. The event was organized and hosted by Jackson Fish Market, which oddly enough has nothing to do with fish. They are a small group of ex-Microsofter's who banded together to do their own thing, and from what I gather they are still in the techie industry, however creating their own brands of consumer software solutions. That is lifted entirely from their, site, I don't really understand what it all means, but they guys were very nice and put together a fantastic panel of speakers from various areas of small business-dom.

I must say that this small business venture is incredibly isolating, as I'm sure anyone who has stuck their neck out as an entrepreneur can relate. In my particular situation, some of that inherent loneliness will become assuaged when I actually open my doors, and have daily contact with fellow cheese lovers. But for now, it's all me and just me, and any opportunity to mingle with a group of like-minded businessfolks is always welcome. I chatted with a few of the people around me; unfortunately the group was far too large to do any considerable conversational networking, but it was still good to meet people who were in their own various stages of business development, research, whathaveyou.

I always make notes of what I think I'm going to take away from an interview or event like this, and then look at them again in a couple of days and see how they jive with my thoughts after a few dozen hours of marinating in my head. So who knows if I'll agree with myself this weekend, but leaving this event I felt a little snowed. Speakers' professions ranged across the board, from flower shops to children's book publishing, to the groovy sex toy shop that has become a pride and joy of Seattle. All but one of them sang the praises of not making any concrete plans to start the business; of somehow just falling into it like they tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and suddenly poof! There's a business with my name on it!
I absolutely cannot deny the romance that these stories lend to small business ownership, but I had to sit on my own hands to keep myself from pumping a fist in the air for the sake of research and business plans and not rushing in!

I know that everyone does it their own way, and I know that no matter how much I plan, edit, re-edit my business plan, pick away at my financials, there are going to be many, many surprises along the way. Hell, I've already encountered so many little wrenches tossed into the mix that I can't even count them, but I always stop and think back to the very first conversation I had with anyone regarding my beloved cheese shop dream. Back in January of 2008, I sat down with friend and fellow small business owner Jason Legat of Model Remodel. I literally sat on the edge of my seat as I regaled him with my romantic version of opening a little cheese shop in less than six months, just in time to meet the holiday rush, it was a brilliant plan in my mind. He sat and listened patiently, and then very kindly advised me to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. He illustrated scenarios of starting with a bang and then falling short very quickly, of not having the proper funding to really head into a retail situation and what about working with cheese, of all basic things? Naturally my exuberant inner child was a little crushed at hearing this, but I knew I had to be open to the advice, after all, he had built his business from the ground up, made his share of mistakes along the way, and is now a very successful business owner. He spun a wise yarn about building the proper foundation (to use a contracting metaphor), and how that foundation will inevitably dictate the imminent success or failure of your budding business. I still hold onto that with every step I make, and also to his sage words to never stick to a rigid timeline, be flexible and always open to opportunities that may not be in your original plan but will make you more informed, experienced, and ever more ready to take the plunge when it does happen.

I thought of all that a lot today, listening to these panelists tell their tales of living on no income and barely breaking even after a full year. More than one person poo-pooed the notion of a loan, or even seed money for that matter. The idea of an organic transition into success was laid on thick, but to me it's like an incredibly hygenic Frenchman; it's a great idea but it is the extremely rare exception to the rule. The people who made it without money, marketing, small business loans, seemingly by the good nature of our community, they should consider themselves touched by angels. But me, I'm an atheist through and through. I'm not counting on anything but myself, my anal-retentive tendencies towards fine tuning my beloved P&L reports, my horse-like work ethic, and my deep, deep love of cheese to see me through this venture.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Sheep, Chehalis, and cheese!

Today I drove down to Chehalis to meet Brad and Meg of Black Sheep Creamery. They and many other farmers in the area were hit incredibly hard by the floods that wreaked havoc over southern Washington about two years ago, and they are now back up to a flock of about 70 sheep, who graze peacefully in pastures just a bit down the road from their farmhouse. They have a fairly small operation, and it is just magical to see where some of my favorite cheeses come from.

I met Meg, the lady of the farmstead, and their silly herding dogs. Then it was into the cheesemaking den for an hour or so observing Brad and their current intern Jess, as they worked on a batch of experimental pecorino. I had to hold myself back from just diving my hands into the sultry curds and gobbling them up by the mouthful. They kneaded and pounded the curds into 4 cheeseclothed wheels, then set them up to press, all the while patiently answering my every question. I got to walk through the cave and see wheels of Mopsy's Best and their fabulous Tomme in various stages of ageing, plus a few odds and ends that they are currently playing around with. Whether I'm at liberty to really say much more about them I'm unsure of, so I'll leave it at that.

I'm scheduled to head back down and start putting my nose to the cheesestone, so to speak, on July 6th. I'll have a few days to work with Jess before she's off for a week and then I'll get to be the one heaving and hefting buckets of whey and wheels of glorious cheese for about 10 days. There is so much for me to learn, and I'm so grateful that these great folks are giving me the opportunity to get up close and personal with their operations. And hopefully I'll get to work a little sheep canoodling in there as well. I can't wait!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections from cheese camp

It's hard to believe that just one week ago I was ensconced in the electric energy of a small gaggle of fellow cheese lovers. But now it's back to reality and a lot of re-figuring of plans.

Meeting Steve Jones was not only invaluable because he's just awesome, but it was a very honest reality check. His operation is about as small as they come; inhabiting about 300 sqft. inside a wine shop, he started it all for less than $50K and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I realized after meeting him and hearing his story, that the other two cheese shop owners I've interviewed have had the financial latitude to make a go of it without borrowing anything. Although they both have very different shops, they make each one happen in a monetary comfort zone that I simply don't have. In short, I came the easy conclusion that I need to start out much, much smaller than I was originally intending, and I'm thanking my lucky stars I figured this out now rather than 6 months in when I still have yet to break even and I'm staring at inventory that isn't moving. Fortunately, I'm one who sets her sights high, so it was a no brainer to eliminate the wine and beer element from the shop. I've already been stressing out over the inane licensing in WA state for selling bottled alcohol yet offering it as samples for tastings. Not to mention the hike in space, therefore rent, and start up inventory it would cost me. Brush that aside and I start smaller, concentrating solely on cheese and a few accouterments to go with it. This of course changes a lot of my business plan, so I've been crunching new numbers and editing like a fiend over the past week getting it up to date.

The other essential element that never crossed my mind was interning at a local creamery. Naturally I've been thinking of shops where I might intern to work behind the counter and get a good taste for day to day operations, but I never knew that creameries/dairies hosted interns, nor did I think about how it would benefit my self-education to do more than visit one or several. So I sent out some feelers, and lo and behold, one of my local faves has been responsive, the lovely folks at Black Sheep Creamery have agreed to meet with me next week to discuss a potential internship in July.

I fell in love with sheep's milk cheese years and years ago when I tasted my first Manchego. It was a little unlike anything I'd tried before, and something about the flaky, savory texture and slightly tangy flavor just sent me soaring. Since then I've always sought out sheep's milk cheese and have become incredibly biased towards it. I swooned over Black Sheep's Tomme a few years back, and this past year their Mopsy's Best has elicited an uncontrollable physical shudder of delight every time I taste it. Of course, I could say that about a lot of cheese, but still.

So there you have it, ladies and gents. I'm currently looking down the road at early fall for opening, and in the meantime I'll be panhandling for airfare to attend the American Cheese Society Annual Conference in Austin, TX. Donations are gladly accepted.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cheesemonger Boot Camp!

Just back from a jam-packed 4 days of cheesemongering in Portland, and all I can say is WOW. This was the first event hosted by Food By Hand, the newest pet project of esteemed Heidi Yorkshire. She teamed up with Steve Jones of Steve's Cheese, and together they brought 15 of America's budding cheese geeks to the lovely city of Portland for a long weekend of cheese, cheese, and more cheese. It was a whirlwind of an event, and it's an understatement to say that it exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds.

We all arrived at Steve's Cheese on Wednesday afternoon to meet and greet, and of course, taste some cheese! That evening Steve treated us to a wine and cheese pairing, followed by one of his famous Farmstead dinners. I don't think any of us knew quite what to expect, but everything fell into place without a hitch as plate after glorious plate of cheese and charcuterie passed around the table. There were no less than 14 kinds of cheese, a good smattering of cured meats, and the flow of conversation quickly overtook that of the wine. Now that's the sign of a fantastic group. People ranged from those on a purely information seeking mission, to current cheesemongers, to wine experts and food brokers, and a few like myself who were gregariously looking forward to opening their own shops in the very near future. It was heaven.

The following days were packed with talk of business plans and taxes, business entities and legal matters, visits to a neighboring Portland cheese shop and local distribution warehouse, with regular intermissions for cheese tastings. Steve let us run rampant in his tiny outfit, and we regularly sampled from the counter, stuck our heads into the reach-in fridges, and got up close and personal with day to day operations. He sacrificed a quarter wedge of luscious Comte for our slicing and wrapping pleasure, and showed us how to deal with soft molds, cheese mites, and a dozen other little intricacies of general cheese care. My head was reeling on a constant protein high and so much information to take in.

I have to take a minute here to wax poetic over the amazing personalities who took us by the hand through this adventure. Steve himself is just the most friendly, easygoing, down-to-earth character, and that is what I want to see more of (myself included of course) in contemporary cheesemongers. He was just an open book about everything that he's learned in his experience, and the willingness to share all of it was a huge comfort. Heidi Yorkshire is just a card; she's got that great dry humor that I love, and her jokes never conceal her intense level of knowledge in the industry. It was clear from the get-go that we were being taught by experts in this field.

The rest may take another post, since just this much is like a longwinded manifesto of my love of cheese, blah blah blah. I will continue to regale you readers tomorrow.

signing off - vive la fromage!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Crap! I thought I'd posted this last week, but a lot of sun in Seattle has a way of working its crazy dreamlike magic on the brain, what can I say?

I'm just now coming down from a full 48 hour cheesegasm, thanks to The Seattle Cheese Festival.

This was my 4th year cruising the Pike Place concourse for nibbles of curd, however this time I took advantage of the inevitable waiting to slip Calf & Kid cards into the hands of everyone I could. I also left little piles of them on several tables, so hopefully you either got one or saw them around somewhere. Strangely enough, I got the stink-eye from an old cheesemonger at the very first booth I approached. I was about 3 layers of people back from the booth, and tried as unobtrusively as possible to slip people a card saying "new cheese shop coming to Seattle". I think I handed out 3 or 4 when I looked up and she was glaring at me like I'd taken a slice of her cheese, wiped my ass with it, and handed it back to her. It was kind of funny, and I moved on with fantastic girlfriend in tow, and I cannot even begin to count how many warm responses I received from fellow cheese lovers. My favorite remark was from a woman several years my senior who gingerly plucked the card from my hand, sneered at it over her low-riding glasses, and said "Well it's about time!" Then she gave me a very warm smile, complemented the logo and that was that.

The rest of the afternoon was spent tasting sooo many cheeses that invoked physical reactions - most of them already known and a good smattering of new rinds on my pallet. With friend and fellow cheese lover in tow, I hit some of the seminars hosted by cheese hotties Tami Parr of PNWCP and Daphne Zeops, cheese guru. How I love to see other women marking their terrior in the cheese biz! All in all it was awesome, how could be otherwise? I am still reeling a tad from so much fromage in this glorious city, and cannot wait for more, more, more!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chevre avec Ritalin?

Just a quick post to let you all know that I'm not dead, just un-hibernating, or whatever you might call thawing out from the winter slowly and enjoying the tad bit of sunshine and fun we all covet this year.

There is certainly nothing like starting your own business to induce the most extreme ADD symptoms. Every day holds the potential to send me soaring or pull me crashing back down to reality, sometimes both. A few weeks ago I was over the moon about a space right down the street, perfect location, just the right size and price, and then in one fell swoop the air was let out of that potential bubble by owners and their crazy ideas of when and how to renovate space. Every day brings another tidbit of news that either elates or crushes me, and every day I'm learning to flow with it a little more.

Mostly I'm twiddling my thumbs, figuratively and literally, waiting for a good space to come along. I am very seriously heeding the advice not to jump on anything too soon just for the sake of having it; my inner Goldilocks can wait for the spot that's just right.

In the meantime, I'm feeling very fancypants-ed at winning a Twitter contest today for tickets to the Seattle stop on The Celebrity Chef Tour benefiting the James Beard foundation, and in this case, my belly.

I'm also getting very bouncy about the upcoming Seattle Cheese Festival this weekend. I'm making hundreds of little Calf & Kid fliers to hand out, attending a couple of seminars, and meeting a handful of fellow Seattleites who I've only known online just yet. So far this week is shaping up famously.

Vive la fromage!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home sweet home?

The perfect beginning to a fantabulous spring weekend in Seattle; I checked out a new space on 12th ave in the 'hood that really hit the "just right" spot for my inner cheese bear. Then moments after tweeting it, the news popped up on The Capitol Hill Seattle blog, color me stoked! This morsel of free press has been great, every day I'm sifting through new emails from fellow cheese-loving Seattleites, singing the praises of this venture. Thank you all for the words of encouragement, and keep it coming!

Today I signed up for the upcoming Food by Hand seminar: Becoming a Cheesemonger. Come June I'll flee the crazy rollercoaster that is my life here for a few days and immerse myself in everything cheese. Now it's back to the laptop to fine tune the 'ole business plan for this new space on 12th.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Batteries recharged

Whew, it's been a while since a post! Mostly due to the lack of anything going on, which has been a blessing while I've been wrapping things up at the day job. In the meantime, I'm super stoked to attend a couple of seminars at the upcoming Seattle Cheese Festival later in May. I'm checking out "Washington's Artisan Cheese Renaissance", hosted by none other than the fantastic Pacific Northwest Cheese Project blog. I'll be delighted to finally meet her in person and solicit the hell out of the shop. Also on the agenda is "The Cheesemonger(Fromager)" which will undoubtedly be inspiring and very educational.

Speaking of inspiring and educational, I had a couple of drinks and some cheese last night with Shannon of City Stimulus and In Your Head. I needed her help working on my "spiel" and she also got me all set up on Twitter, so feel free to tweet at me to your heart's content! We also shared a delightful toasted goat cheese crottin at Oddfellows, which was prepared very well and served with sliced apples and pears.

Later this weekend I'll be heading back to the farmer's market for some more Naughty Nellie from River Valley Ranch, I just can't get enough of that stuff. It's made in a tomme style, but it's airier and a little more tart than any tomme I've come across, yet it does have that lovely smokey quality that carves a special place in my heart for tommes. I also have a list of some highly recommended wines from a coworker who is no novice to the Washington wine scene, so I'll be holing up inside with my cheese and wine diary and calling it a "research weekend". It's tough, I tell you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keeping the faith

This month has been like being stranded in quicksand. So much movement, work, activity was happening for a while there and now it's like I've hit a brick wall. Well, maybe not that dramatic, it just feels that way.

My loan officer strongly advised me to seek out an investor, and I'll be damned if I don't heed the advice of those who've watched this happen a hundred times. I'm a very independent thinker 99% of the time, but I know when to back off and do what I'm told when it comes to things that I'm fairly ignorant about, like, oh I dunno, starting a small business?? Luckily for me, my loan officer is really awesome, and very straightforward with me. According to him, I'd have about a 50/50 chance of getting exactly what I want as is, and if my application is rejected then I'll have to wait 3 months before re-applying. That will simply not do. So it's time to put on my dancing shoes and make someone else believe in this as much as I do, or at least $20,000 as much as I do. Lucky, seriously lucky me has no less than 2 people to approach right off the bat, and if they aren't interested they will surely be able to refer me to those who may. We will see.....

In the meantime I've been relishing some fantastic tomme style curdage from River Valley Cheese. We tried the Naughty Nellie, a lovely raw cow's milk bathed in Naughty Nellie beer from the Pike Brewery. Also tasted the Valley Girl and one not on the website that was wrapped in crushed Cabernet grapes. Mmmmmmmm......all fantastic.

I'm also playing with grilled cheese, so far ingredients involved have included: aged Gruyere, anchovies, rosemary boule, fresh pumpernickel, smoked onion mustard, roasted red peppers, black olives, carmelized onions, aged gouda, fresh buffalo mozarella, and garlic pickles. Not at all in that order.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I hate hiccups, both in literal and symbolic form. As for the latter, it looks like I still don't have enough money to qualify for the loan I want. I love that in order to procure a loan, I need to front so much cash that I could ostensibly take all the money I have and just ask for a loan about 1/3 of what I'm currently seeking. And then it sort of all stops making sense anyway. Suffice it to say that things are slightly on hold until I can find an investor to inject that last $20K or so necessary to see this cheese baby to fruition. So if you know anyone with far too much disposable income who might like to own 5% of a kick-ass cheese shop, please do send them my way.

In better, and for more entertaining news, I held my first official cheese tasting last night at Chez LaVigne. While Mr. LaVigne and I have held many a cheese session on our own, it's high time I get friends to come over for copious servings of dairy decadence. In return they eat the stuff I can't stand, and help me come up with witty and often terribly inappropriate descriptions of the cheese(s). See, back at in Brooklyn at The Bedford Cheese Shop, descriptions were half the fun of spending an afternoon tasting and spending far too much of a weekend allowance. For example, this is what they have to say about a goaty Crottin: "Can be enjoyed in the younger, fresh state or in the aged, hard-as-a-f%#king-rock-stage."

They are now slightly famous for their wacky descriptions, and I'm sure they won't mind if I take a page from their marketing book to that end. Last night a good helping of a dozen or do cheese-loving friends arriving avec various beers and wines to graze on a delicious selection of goat cheese. Among some of the descriptive hits were:

"This cheese reminds me of a Frenchman I once dated; he never bathed but was a great lover."

"Like making out with a gang of billy goats."

"This cheese could beat you at Rock Band." -- still not sure exactly what this means but hell, it sounds good!

"This cheese is the naughty that needs a nice."

And the list goes on, and yes, you will have to come to the shop to see, taste, and purchase the fantastic fromages that elicited such an outpouring of adjectives.

*Note to self: next time take a picture of the beautiful cheese board before letting everyone devour it. This morning I thought of it but our kitchen had been taken over by an army of empty wine glasses, bottles, and one hunk of wood with a few scraps of dried cheese on it.

*Note to self #2: disregard anything after cheese #4, because by that time we've all "tasted" far much booze to come up with anything beyond the intellectual level of Beavis and Butthead. Case in point - Pave de Jadis, an absolutely transcendent log of fluffy, lemon-infused paste covered in a layer of delicate ash. We ended the night with this and this is what I've got to show for it:

"Like a premature cheese ejaculation!"

"Like a quality hooker, it goes away right after you've enjoyed it but you'll always welcome it back for another round."

"Dude, this cheese is GOOD!"

Coming up in a few weeks for the next lucky selection of my peeps - an evening of blue's.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Holding pattern

Last week just a bust on the cheese shop front. After applying for licenses and permits galore, I learned that, in a nutshell, I can't get a liquor license that will give me the freedom I want in the shop. I appears that in order to have public tastings, I would either need a liquor license that dictates more than 50% sales from alcohol, or I sell unopened bottles and have no ability to give people tastings. There is one other option I'm going to discuss with my lawyer tomorrow morning that will hopefully resolve this issue, but if it doesn't work then I'm back to spreadsheets and business plan drama, editing everything I've worked so hard on to create a different type of store. But I'm not going to count on anything yet.

This weekend we got away for a bit and shot down to Newport, OR for the Annual Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. We ate the best Penn Cove mussels I've ever had, downed many a Rogue ale, trooped through two tent's worth of drunken, post Mardi-Gras idiots to taste dozens of wine, and then stuffed ourselves silly with more yummy things from shells out of the ocean. I now have a very good selection of Oregon wines to add to the inventory list. Among the shining stars of the afternoon were a Willamette Valley Syrah and a Columbia Valley Merlot, both of which are absolutely toe-curlingly fantastic.

Then I took advantage of the drive home to shove my nose back into my library of cheese porn; books full of the most luxurious photos and descriptions of cheeses the world over. That, a relaxing Sunday evening back with the furry children, an ice cold Brutal Bitter from the Rogue warehouse sale, and a hunk of Seastack I'd forgotten about, and call me good.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A few more steps towards Cheese Vixendom...

A LOT has been happening lately, hence the lack of posts because I've been out of my mind busy. Last week I checked out a potential space just 4 short blocks from my house - take that 20 mile commute! It was a teeny raw space on the ground floor of a new condo development. Yes, I know they are still popping up everywhere but dammit, if the location is this perfect who am I to judge? Turns out 573 sq. ft. feels like a lot less than you'd think, and the real estate agent and I hopped over to the space next door, a comfortable and spacious 900+ sq. ft. and still *just* in my budget.

Since then it's been conversations with just about everyone I know who's ever said the words "real estate", and scrambling to get the damned business plan finished so I can move on this baby. Maybe it's the 7 years of New York in me, maybe it's just dumb luck, but after only 3 years here in Seattle I'm amazed at how well networked I am to call in favors to help me along just about every step of this process. Derek Hermsen is the husband of a super awesome volunteer/intern at the shelter last year, and he is worth his weight in gold. Not only is he just plain nice and easy to talk to, but he knows his shit up, down, inside and out. He works as a tenant advocate so he's now going to work for me to negotiate terms for the lease on this fantabulous space.

In the meantime I'm making mock concept sketches for the landlord, getting the rest of my business plan strings tied up, and just today I got my LLC paperwork in the mail and my EIN, which was like magic, it was kind of scary how fast and easy it was. Tomorrow I open my business account, turn in my loan application, and hold my breath for 7-10 days. Luckily I have a whole lot of wine tasting to keep me busy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Short and sweet

I haven't gotten nearly enough sleep lately, have been absolutely consumed with some other projects at the 'ole day job, and the pinched nerve or whatever it is in my left shoulder is surely going to take up the entire hour of my massage therapy this week, but it's all worth it because this Friday I am doing a walkthrough of the retail space I've been salivating over a mere 4 blocks from my abode. From there I'll be finally submitting my loan application and the real fun begins.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Voila, the logo!

This is only the first of many, many versions, but I'm already getting terribly excited, thanks again to Courtney Blazon and Bonnie Fink:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Something real

Last night I got my first piece of mail for The Calf and Kid; my business license!

I know it doesn't seem like much, especially considering that it's only one of a long list of licenses and permits I need to acquire in a very short time period. But I still the happy dance all over the porch after I got it. It makes all the mental work of the past several months for something entirely theoretical feel like it's actually starting to happen!

Naturally a lot of other things are falling into place a little more quickly than I'd anticipated, but that's just how it happens sometimes. I contacted a real estate agent about a space I've had my eye on for a few months and learned that the price had just been reduced almost 12% and it comes with a very respectable TI allowance. So I figured I should get this ball rolling like a skeeball on amphetamines. I called my insurance broker and she whipped up a quote for me, and now rent and insurance are both far below my projected expenditures, yay!
I'm up to my eyeballs in meetings and appointments with the Fire Marshall, and inbetween I'm having dreams of floorplans and cabinets. It's totally insane but I'm loving every minute of it.

I'm also lucky enough to have many friends offering their varied talents to helping me and my new venture. Just this week my pal Courtney Blazon whipped up some fantastic Calf and Kid illustrations for the logo. They are exactly what I wanted and I can't wait for my other good gal pal Bonnie Fink to turn these works of art into a catchy logo, soon to come.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The thick of it

This week has been agonizingly hectic and left me feeling a bit bogged down in spreadsheets. Normally I'm actually a big fan of spreadsheets, in fact I often use them to make lists of things I need to get done and when in the rest of my life. Unfortunately the ones I'm buried in up to my eyeballs require me to postulate estimates and projections that I'm unsure of, and often ask for line items that I cannot even define let alone calculate. I'm a very smart person, and I'm getting beat by these stupid .xls files!

In the meantime I'm also getting to dip into the really fun part of all this: contacting distributors. I know that sounds really dry, but drooling over page after page of every kind of cheese imaginable and making lists of first, second and third tier inventory is just heaven to me. It reminds of being a kid poring over the Sears Christmas catalog, dog-earing every page containing a desired item. There are cheeses I'd long forgotten from days back in Brooklyn, creamy delights that were only available a few months of the year, wrapped in nettle leaves or smoked with chicory and hazelnuts. There is one I can't wait to try that's given a rind of ground espresso and lavender.

And of course let's not forget the all important cash issue. I'm waiting for my incredibly generous mother-in-law, who is for all intensive purposes my mom, to send along her gift of seed money. It's money that was intended as a down payment on a home, but seeing as we are nowhere near any position to purchase real estate any time soon, I'm putting it to good use as cheese shop funding. I need to come up with 30% of my start up costs, and her gift + my savings + cashing out an old life insurance policy will just about get me there. I may need to sell a kidney on ebay to reach the $30,000 I need, but dammit I'm going to make it happen one way or another.

Friday, January 16, 2009


I remember saying to someone several months back that this whole process was like a roller coaster ride; there's the long, arduous climb up the track, slowly chug-chug-chugging along, feeling like you're never going to reach the top. Then before you know it, you get a moment to pause, and you're off like a bullet, adrenaline pumping and screams whipping their way past your head as you uncontrollably plummet down.

I love love LOVE roller coasters. For me, the scarier the better; the more I want to turn and run like a coward after waiting in line for hours and it's finally my turn to go, the more I love every second of it. I love the leg-trembling endorphin rush afterward just as much as anyone else, but really I'm in it for the ride. All 2 minutes of it I feel like I'm the king of the world, soaring to heights humans simply aren't meant to go to, arms out and and mouth wide open screaming my lungs out all the way. Without even realizing it, I've started that crazed trip down the first slope, and I am loving it!

A few weeks ago I noticed a class at Culinary Communion on Northwest wine tasting. I must admit, as much as I know there is amazing wine being made all around this part of the country, I know little of it, and this incredibly affordable tasting course was a must, in the name of research, of course. I honestly did go into this with mild expectations of adding a few more wines to my inventory list, and possibly a bit of networking, depending on who else was there. Little did I know, chef and founder Gabriel Clayclamp himself was hosting the class, in his own living room! It was fabulous - intimate and cozy without feeling like we were intruding on his private space. Gabriel himself is wonderful - charismatic, approachable, funny, and just a fountain of information - everything you want in a fellow foodie/instructor. He walked us through a course of very surprising, eclectic wines, while we munched on tidbits he'd crafted for the event: popcorn with duck fat (just typing that makes me drool), red beet salad, handmade pickled mushrooms and okra, and most importantly, hand-cured proscuttio and soprasetta from his new side business The Swinery. Oh don't you worry gentle readers, I properly accosted Mr. Claycamp at the end of the evening to ask that I may retail these melt-in-your-mouth pork goods at The Calf and Kid. But in the meantime, hit the Ballard Farmer's Market for a bacon pop. Trust me.

Shortly after that fantasmagorical evening of far too much wine to be considered a "tasting", I rsvp'd for a free, informational legal session hosted by The Seattle Grassroots Business Association and Terence and Terence Law Firm. Turned out I was the only one who showed up, but that was great because I got to pick the brain of Thomas Terence about legal entities, forms, leases, advice, and is there any good Mexican food in Seattle? for an hour or so. He was great, and I left with a much clearer understanding of what an LLC really means.

Going back to my roller coaster analogy, I would categorize these events as the end of the climb, the nerve-wracking but mouth-watering in anticipation moments when you know you're so close to that release and you're thanking your lucky stars you haven't wet your pants yet. But you know it could still happen.

Today I met with my banker, for a very informal but preliminary face-to-face regarding what I would like to call Operation: Do I Have a Chance in Hell at a SBA Loan? The short answer is: yes, yes I do have a chance in hell. Well, it may not necessarily be hell, maybe something more like the 3rd circle, still purgatory but not that nice purgatory where you're just floating around. I may be chained to a firey wall and forced to have small piranhas eat me to death slowly, but to me that means YES!!! They may give me money - I'm not sure how much yet, I may still need to find an investor, but goddammit it's going to happen!

Then I proceeded to get into almost 3 accidents on the drive home because I couldn't stop staring and drooling at the retail spaces I've been eyeing for the past few months. They will be mine... oh yes... they will be mine...
Well, one of them anyway.

Monday, January 12, 2009


It was about a year ago now that the idea of opening my own little haven of cheese, wine and other accoutrements needled its way into my brain and took root. I sat on it for a few months, did as much research as I could on the 'ole internet, and the longer I let it simmer the more I was absolutely compelled to make it happen.

Come June, during a trip to New England, I held an informal meeting with Keith Dickey of Butter's, a modest cheeseshop so fabulous it doesn't even need a website. I left with several new ideas, informational gems, and about $100 worth of delicious cheese. I came home, started clumsily plunking out the first draft of my business plan, and wondered how the hell I was going to make it all happen.

I took the rest of what I figured for my last summer of freedom off from planning, and re-planted my nose to the grindstone in the fall. I taught myself the in's and out's of licensing, insurance, taxes, more taxes, the importance of not being the one who figures out taxes, compiled lists of to-do tasks, supplies, inventory, made timelines, and tore my hair out doing all of it. Finally the inevitable visit with a counselor at Seattle SCORE set me straight on several things, and I was back on the fast track to the wacky, wild wonderland that is financial spreadsheets. It is soooo much fun.

In the meantime I had the pleasure of meeting Strom Peterson of Edmond's The Resident Cheesemonger, for a Pacific Northwesterner's take on the whole shebang. This time I left with plenty of new, improved ideas, as well as many of the specifics I needed to flesh out another huge chunk of my financial forecast.

Being a bit of a literary hound, and a perfectionist, the rest of the business plan has been edited and re-edited dozens of times, which I realize is silly because nobody who reads it is going to care if I have run-on sentence here or there, or if I can't come up with so many other ways to say "cheese" without sounding like a drunken Frenchman. So this beast that I've been laboring over off and on for the past 6 months is nearly slayed, and that brings us up to speed.

Now back to the best part of this foray into delicious things of the grape, grain and fungus:

Martino Old vine Malbec 2004 - this wine makes me think of a beautiful flapper, eyes closed, slowly pulling a silk scarf from around her porcelain neck with a tiny smile. It is seductive, heady, warm and medium to full bodied. I always hate it when people call a wine "unpretentious", but I'll be damned if that isn't an apt description for this one. Single vineyard, 83 year old French Malbec clone grapevines are like an Italian grandmother; beautiful, wise, and something you just want to melt into the bosom of. This will be wine #23 on my inventory list.


Friday, January 9, 2009


This tale, of how I came to the decision to open my own cheese shop, will probably take more than a few posts, but I will try my best to embrace a little brevity.

During our first year in Seattle, I found myself skipping through The Seattle Cheese Festival like a kid in a candy store. There is so much amazing cheese being made out here! I had never known what a hot spot this part of the country was for cheese making, but once I did I was even more in love with our new home. Soon after the festival, I was searching for cheese shops in Seattle, sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that there must be a dozen of them. Strangely enough, I was wrong wrong wrong, but at this point I was but a disappointed consumer, a committed patron, nowhere near any thoughts of becoming a business owner myself. It wasn't until I made a visit back to the East Coast, entered a local cheese shop, and just about came to tears at the wall of stinky cheese odor that I realized just how much I missed the cheese shop experience as a part of my daily life.

I came back home to Seattle and wondered why on earth nobody else had taken advantage of this market rich with local artisan cheese and dedicated foodies. This city has plenty to offer behind the cheese counters of grocery stores and gourmet food markets, but they cannot fill the void that exists for a dedicated fromagerie like the one that fed my passion for cultured dairy back in New York. So now I'm knee deep in business plans and financial forecasts and biting my nails over real estate, and I'll be blogging every last detail of it here. Lucky you!!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Inspiration, Inception, and The Iceman

If I'm truly honest, I'd have to say my love affair with cheese started about 6 years ago in a poorly stocked bodega on the corner of N. 7th St. and Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn, NY. Although the deli boasted old signage of Boar's Head meat and cheese products, I had never in my two years of frequenting them for beer and cigarettes, ever seen anyone actually purchase anything from the long-abandoned perishables counter in the back.

Myself and the rest of the L train popped in after work for beer and smokes, and while I waited in a line easily a dozen people long, a very tall, stricking young man meandered aimlessly around the back of the store looking slightly lost. He sort of looked like The Iceman, but minus the scary tan. Moments later the usual din of the deli was cut sharply by this man's incredibly thick, unmistakably German accent imploring of the entire shop, "Excuse me, but eez zere zumone to cut zee cheeze?" Nobody said much of anything, and he flapped his arms, frustrated and alarmed at the lack of customer service. "PLEEZE! Ken zumone help me to cut zee cheeze?!?" A few of us smiled quietly to ourselves, and by the time he started in on round three of his cheese-slicing plea I was taking my change and heading out the door, giggling uncontrollably to myself. Naturally this incident made for a rousing story told many a time over drinks with friends, and over time I grew to name this innocently misdirected man Hans. Hans, who was simply looking for some cheese so Hans can has cheeseburger.

A year or so later, my neighborhood was graced by the birth of The Bedford Cheese Shop, and my life was changed forever. I still remember clearly the first time I entered the store; they had a small but not insignificant sign on the door that said "Warning: it smells like France in here". I wondered how much rent they would charge to let me start sleeping there. Then I walked in, was offered a taste of something gooey and delectable, and the rest, as they say, is history. Hans, wherever he may have been at the time, finally had someone to cut the cheese for him, and alas, so did I.

I spent the better part of my last two years in Brooklyn with my drooling face pressed against the shiny glass cases of cheese at the Bedford Cheese Shop, or as I would later name it, Heaven. It wasn't long before the employees knew Mr. M and I by face and love of cheese every time we raced in for a splurge de fromage. I'd love to say that they knew us by name, but then again I didn't know them by name either. In fact, the only things I knew by name other than the sacred 25 yr. aged Montgomery Cheddar, were their goats Mary Kate and Ashley, whom they had several photos of behind the counter. So in a nutshell: cheese + me + awesome Brooklynites = happiness that carries far, far, far beyond our little neighborhood off the East River.

Flash forward several years. We've relocated to the Pacific Northwest, and we love love love it. Food in general is astounding, amazing, and yet somehow lacking that, oh I dunno, je n'est sais quoi? Oh yes, a CHEESE SHOP! So into this soggy town I shall march, french loaves swinging like a modern-day Yojimbo, and I will bring this land of Seattle the experience that only a proper fromagarie can provide, and I shall dedicate it all to Hans. Well, maybe.