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I Dream in Dairy

Raychel, here. In July, 2021, I took a girls' trip with my mom to Asheville, NC to do a bit of shopping. We passed a shop called South Slope Cheese, and being the turophile I am (that's a cheese-lover. You're probably one, too! I learned this recently.) I had to stop. Man, I gotta tell you- it felt like I had been searching for home without even knowing it and finally stumbled across the threshold. (Melodramatic? Perhaps. True? Definitely.). I felt like a kid in a candy shop. It was small and crowded with all the things I love- fine wines, fancy schmears and pickled items you just can't find anywhere else, speck, jamon, prosciutto, so many salumi, and, of course, ALL. THE. CHEESE.

So I bought it. Well, most of it. Way more cheese than I could eat that night, although I gave it the ol' college try, for sure. The woman behind the counter cut my slices, and her husband pulled warm baguettes out of the oven behind her. All I could think was, "How do I get this life??"

When I got home to Stephen and the kids, I said to him, "Let me ask you something and I want you to think about it before you answer. What would you think about opening our own business? A cheese shop." I told him why, and went over all the information I had been researching overnight and on the way home- the market for cheese is growing 30% year-over-year for the past 4 years, Chattanooga had a dearth of cheese shops- only 1, and Burlington, VT, a similar size and similar income level, supports six. Most of all, I really, really, really wanted to. I love cheese so much and have always wanted to be my own boss.

To my amazing husband's credit, he completely supported the idea and vowed to help in any way he could. We took courses together on cheese pairings, small-business development and ownership, he drove to Atlanta multiple times picking up equipment and inventory. I created a business plan, found a mentor, secured funding, and began catering small events.

In December 2021, we thought we'd found the perfect location on the Northshore, but it turned out the older building wouldn't support the many refrigerators we would need and the $50k it would take to rewire everything wasn't part of our budget proposal. So we kept looking and found the most amazing spot next to the Chattanooga Whiskey Event Hall on Riverfront. In February we signed the lease.

It didn't need much work, having been a sandwich shop in its previous life, but we did need to make it our own. We linked up with contractors for quotes- one said $2,000-$3,000 (so low we didn't think there was any way they had understood what we wanted) and another said $30,000-$40,000 (wayyyyy higher than the $10,000 I had thought the work would likely cost!)

I was explaining my woes to my hair stylist (as one does, naturally) and his wife, who is the salon manager, pipes up with, "Here, let me call my uncle. He's a contractor." Before I could blink, she had him on speaker phone and he and his wife, who works with him, would be out the next day.

The Duncans were remarkable. They quoted exactly what I thought it would cost, finished within 3 weeks (everyone else said 6-8), and did an amazing job making my dream a reality. (If you ever need a contractor, let me know and I'll give you their info!)

Then, it was time to order inventory and hire a crew. I'm an HR Manager by trade, but there's something really satisfying about interviewing people for your own business. We got really lucky. One of our first applicants was Chris, a meat slicer from an upscale deli. His passion for learning all things cheese and his positive energy and creative ideas told me we had found a great member of our team. Then we met Harrison, who loves bee-keeping, has a degree in nutritional therapy, and really understands the cultural value of cheese. Not to mention she's almost as obsessed with goat cheese as I am!

Then, Cathy Billings, professional and award-winning cheesemonger extraordinaire and founder of Magnolia Fine Food company (the only nuts we stock) said she could make herself available a few hours a week! Talk about luck! Cathy has forgotten more about the ins and outs of slinging cheese (and she doesn't forget anything) than the rest of us know combined and was a serendipitous meeting in our Co.Lab business starter course.

With Stephen in charge of Day-to-Day operations, we officially have a rockstar team!

We opened the Sunday before Memorial Day, 2022, right at the end of National Cheese Month. We're so excited to serve you and welcome you to the funkiest little cheese shop in Chattanooga!

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