You know those people who are madly, wildly in love with everything about what they’re doing? Those people who are so passionate about their ideas or their business or their craft that you can’t be around them without getting swept up in it too? Kendall and John Antonelli are those people. I once saw John Antonelli inhaling the scent of a piece of Comte, eyes closed, almost in a swoon. When he came to, I could see in his eyes visions of the flower-strewn pastures of the mountainsides of Eastern France, and he told us that the flavors of the cheese vary according to how late in the season it is made, subtle nuances shifting in the wheels made later and later in the season as the cows follow the grass and flowers up the mountain behind melting snow. From then on, I was deeply hooked. John and Kendall know who made every cheese in the shop–everything is available for sampling and every bite comes with a story of the animals, the place and the people who made it. As much as the Antonellis love cheese, they are also crazy about each other, adore working together, and care deeply for their fellow cheesemongers and customers. This kind of feeling and depth of connection just can’t be faked. As much as I adore cheese, sometimes I go into Antonelli’s just for the love.
What gets you to work every morning?
John: The opportunity to work together doing something that we love energizes me to get to work and conquer the day. Plus, I love the opportunity to share my pleasures and passions with as many people as I can; few people get to do what they love.
Kendall: I look forward to the excitement of meeting the challenges for the day. As a small business, we never know what we’re going to encounter. We’ve found ourselves saying over and over, “When things normalize….” Or “Today is a perfect storm of…” The reality is, it would be boring if it were normal! The joy of owning our own business is that every day is different. We have the opportunity to continually rise to the challenge and I find that to be incredibly rewarding work; you have to celebrate all the victories (including the small ones!) and quickly identify problems, learn from them, adapt, and move on. It certainly never gets boring! That drives me on a daily level.
What inspires you?
Kendall: I’m inspired by the labor and love that goes into making quality cheese and other artisanal goods. I know the word “artisanal” is thrown around a lot these days, but at the end of the day, I’m honored to represent folks who are dedicated to their craft and to working to improve it. It’s my pleasure to attempt to understand what drives these folks and relay that story to our customers. And truly, nothing is as reaffirming for that work as biting into a delicious cheese and knowing what it took to make it taste that way. Overall, we’re inspired to do good for our team, our customers, our producers, our community, and our family.
Tell your brand story in 5 words.
John: approachable, sexy, playful, knowledgeable, passionate.
Kendall: Hah! John’s answer sounds ridiculous, we know. But those are truly the five words we told interior designer Joel Mozersky and graphic designer BJ Heinley when we set out to create our brand! Cheese – sexy? Yes! We want folks that walk through our doors to know that we’re in love with all things cheese and that we consistently endeavor to learn more about it and share that education with those who want it in a fun, unpretentious environment. Often people can take themselves too seriously, and it’s crucial to us that folks feel at home in our shop. After all, we play with cheese all day.
What other businesses do you come back to again & again?
Kendall: We’re attracted to businesses that revolve around the customer experience and are focused on service. In the end, we can go anywhere and love it – all depending on the service we got.
How do you measure success?
Kendall: That’s a tricky one! We’ve been super fortunate and have already hit so many of the goals that we thought would be in our five-year plan. In fact, we’re constantly working on our vision. That being said, when John and I set out to start this business, it all came down to a few things. We wanted to work together and be truly inspired so that our enthusiasm for what we were doing was authentic and contagious (and made us want to work daily). So at the end of each day, we look at each other and evaluate those goals. Every single day – even the tough ones logging incredibly long hours and sleepless nights for the first many months after opening our business(!) – has been amazing because we’ve been in this adventure together, and we consider that a huge success. We also measure success in more tangible ways like involving our entire team in actively tracking our sales.
John: Originally, our goal was just to open a business! So we’ve had to work to redefine what success means to us and will continue to mean as we move forward. Loosely, we measure success as the results we achieve working towards our goals, visions, and mission statement. As we establish desired outcomes that are important to all of our stakeholders, we can redefine success.
If you weren’t running a successful cheese emporium, what would you be doing?
John & Kendall: When we started envisioning a business that we could spend forty years working in, we created a list of our strengths and quickly narrowed that down to four: eating, talking, traveling and being together. We spent two years identifying the shared passion of ours that would allow us to utilize those four strengths and cheese essentially chose us. I’m sure for many entrepreneurs there is a sense that if they had not chosen their business, it would have eventually chosen them. We can’t say with any certainty or sincerity what we would be doing if we weren’t running a cheese shop, because as we said before, this is our dream job. So we’ll just keep dreaming this dream.
What was your first job?
John: Camp counselor: loved it. I raised enough money shoveling snow to buy hockey goals and goalie pads for our neighborhood
Kendall: As part of my rodeo association, we had to work the concession stands at high school rodeos, but I don’t think that would count as a job. I guess it would be the summer I worked as an intern for an advertising agency and also ran the admissions gate at Clark Gardens in Weatherford, Texas.
What’s your next big idea?
John & Kendall: We continue to exceed our wildest dreams, so it’s hard to get ahead of the ball right now! I’d say the main thing is that we want to carve out time to define our long-term vision. However, we do have a lot of exciting ideas in the pipeline. As far as to what the specifics are, we’ll let you know when they happen!
Stay tuned for more culinary q&a with John and Kendall and a cheesy recipe!