The Culpeper Cheese Company isn’t going “a whey” for long.
The venerable downtown business will, however, be suspending operations effective Dec. 27 as owner Jeffery Mitchell searches for a new location for the business.
“We’ve grown to where people want more meals out of us,” Mitchell said. “That is wine bar, tapas, paninis, soups. Those are the things people are asking for. We have a ridiculous number of inefficiencies in the way we produce things. It’s time to invest in a real kitchen.”
Currently located at 129 East Davis Street, Mitchell said that his landlord does not want a real kitchen and he respects that decision. That is why he will be taking the month of January to find a new home where he can expand the offerings of the company.
“I don’t want to restrict our business,” Mitchell said. “Based on that it’s best that we find a space and take the month of January to sort of refocus and define what we do best and amplify that.”
He admits that the business is kind of doing things backwards, taking a sabbatical while they search for a new location, but he said the announcement has brought new opportunities. “I would like to stay within two blocks of where we are now,” he said, noting that he walks to work and he would like to continue to do so.
Staying local is important to Mitchell, as he’s forged relationships with his Culpeper locals and tourists alike. Food is an emotional investment and he respects the job he and his employees have in dealing with those relationships and introducing people to new tastes and flavors.
He never envisioned his business would grow this much in a little more than 10 years, but it’s a testament to how the public has responded to their personal touch.
“I never thought we’d be this big,” Mitchell said. “I envisioned a couple wine racks and to be there two days a week. This space became available and I sublet from the Frenchman’s Corner and that happened on short notice. We opened and we were bigger than we wanted to be from day one. The public accepted us and asked for more.”
In the process of adding more, there have been mistakes, he admitted. He said that the mentality has often been “fire, ready, aim,” and now is a time to take a step back and reevaluate some of those efficiencies.
“We’ve grown to a point where fire, ready, aim doesn’t work,” Mitchell said.
He said that during a shift, employees walk an average of more than eight miles a day, finding a way to cut back on that is one of the driving forces of the move and the reevaluation.
“Everything you need should be in a short distance,” Mitchell said. “We’re working against ourselves for so much that we do. The month off is going to help with that.”
The Culpeper Cheese Company has made changes throughout its existence, including dropping its homebrewing options. There are other items that may follow suite as they determine what has worked, and what hasn’t.
“There’s other things here that we might do the same thing with,” Mitchell said. “We will narrow some things down.”
Cheese, will not be one of those things. It’s at the heart of the name and is the passion the store has for the dairy product is evident.
“Cheese is at the center of our name, we see a lot of paths forward in the world of cheese,” Mitchell said. “Cheese is our priority, it’s where our love is. Not to say we don’t love our other items, they all go together well. We’re going to focus on our core.”
At that core, is the clientele. Mitchell said there have been emotional reactions, but many are excited to see where the business goes.
“We’ve seen some runs on things, a lot of pre orders because we’re only open 12 more days,” Mitchell said. “It’s been a mixed response. We’ve had some people come in with tears, we’ve had some come in and say ‘thank goodness, you’re ahead of the curve.’”
He has a vision for where he wants to take the business, but he also values the input of his employees, as he plans to sit down with the 10 part timers to make sure they all share the same path.
“When we come out of this, everyone here will have a clearer sense of what we’re doing,” Mitchell said. “You have to have faith and believe that we’re going somewhere, we just don’t know where yet.”