Sheri LaVigne, owner of The Calf and Kid and Culture Club Cheese Bar, says both her cheese-focused businesses closed their doors for good on Sunday.
Calf and Kid opened in 2011 in Melrose Market, filling Seattle’s surprising void of shops dedicated to small-scale artisan cheese. LaVigne and her wares (all presented with saucy descriptions) racked up devoted fans and glowing press. Last year she further expanded our civic cheese consciousness with Seattle's first cheese bar, complete with a space for conducting her popular cheese classes and an exceedingly clever name.
In the run-up to her bar opening on 12th Ave this past October, says LaVigne, cheese shop customers would badger her all the time asking when Culture Club would open. People were excited. I was excited.
And then, she says, “Culture Club just failed miserably right out of the gate. I have no idea why; I thought it would be really successful given the reputation and the anticipation.”
The reason is likely some thorny combination of the feedback LaVigne gathered as business didn’t pick up at the cheese bar. The location was just a bit removed from Pike/Pine foot traffic. The space was a little sterile—"That was the opposite of the experience I wanted to provide," says LaVigne. "I needed to get the door open and didn't think decor would be such a big deal."
Customers also didn't quite grasp the cheese bar concept, not understanding whether it was a place for a snack or for a full dinner, or mistook Culture Club for a wine bar. LaVigne addressed some early service issues, but not before they earned a few withering Yelp reviews.
“People come once, and if they don’t have an amazing experience, they won’t ever go back,” says LaVigne. “In a place like Seattle that’s so saturated, you have to really work hard to impress the shit out of people; and that’s what you should do anyway, as any kind of business owner.”
Meanwhile higher rents at Melrose Market and a thicket of construction projects thwarting customer access created cash flow problems at Calf and Kid. LaVigne relocated her cheese counter out of the historic space and into Culture Club just last month. But she found out late last week she's losing the space on 12th Avenue. LaVigne still has more than 100 pounds of cheese in her possession; she'll hold a "cheese fire sale" (now there's a rueful term) this Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 6, and serve the remaining beer and wine.
LaVigne isn't sure what's next for her, other than taking some time to process her emotions. She says she hopes someone else out there is game to open another cheese shop in Seattle at some point, and when they do, that they'll seek her counsel.
"Putting every ounce of yourself into something and then having to admit failure is the hardest thing on earth," she says. Though there's something else that disappoints her even more: "When I opened Calf and Kid there was a void in the way cheese was being sold and represented. And now I've created that void again."