Pairing a new cheese shop with the Southside’s other artisanal businesses made sense to entrepreneurs Jesse and Brittany Watlington.
“It seems like a natural fit for this kind of store,” Bleu Fox Cheese Shop co-owner Jesse Watlington said of his new Main Street business.
The husband-and-wife duo signed the lease on the 650-square-foot shop—which carries unique cheeses, sandwiches and beer—at the end of October and worked quickly to open by the early December Mainx24 block party, which is still the business’ best sales day.
That carried the shop into a strong holiday season, during which employees sold gift boxes, cards and cheese plates.
The Watlingtons both grew up outside of Knoxville and met in college at East Tennessee State University.
After moving to Chattanooga, Jesse worked at Greenlife and later at Whole Foods in the cheese departments.
“I just fell in love with cheese,” he said.
Watlington attended a conference where he saw more than 1,000 different cheeses, and that experience helped him realize the business possibilities, he said.
With his new endeavor, he wanted to bring a variety of unique cheeses to town and help educate the public about the products.
Now he keeps 60 to 75 kinds of cheese, including “everything that Sequatchie Cove makes,” in stock at the 330 E. Main St. location.
The cheeses also come from creameries in North Carolina or Georgia and from as far away as Australia, he said.
“Most of the stuff we have in our case, you can’t get anywhere else,”Watlington also said. “That’s why we wanted to do this—to broaden the selection of artisan cheeses in the area.”
In addition to cheese and charcuterie boards that range from individual to party-sized, the shop also sells items customers can use to make their own trays. Customers can buy crackers, fruit spreads, pickled vegetables, cured meats, nuts, olives and chocolate.
Bleu Fox Cheese Shop sells beer and the owners hope to have a license to sell wine soon.
The business also hosts parties and events and offers a cheese-of-the-month club.
“It’s almost like a cheese CSA,” Watlington said of the club.
Customers pick up a box that includes three or four cheese options.
“We are doing cheese that we don’t stock in the case,” he said about the club, which doubled its members in its second month. “They are limited and unique cheeses.”
A learning experience
The shop also has classes, such as Cheese 101, during which certified professionals explore seven styles of cheese with students.
And many customers who visit the shop get an educational experience during the conversation with employees, Watlington said.
“Coming to buy cheese here is an educational experience [too] because the format of our store is ‘cut to order,'” he said. “If you just walk in and see a case full of cheese, it’s hard to navigate if you don’t know what you’re looking at. We engage in conversation to find out what people like.”