WILMINGTON, NC—Wanna know how to open a cheese and wine shop in 63 days? Just ask David Rishel and Brad Nuznoff — two best-friends-turned-business-partners who accomplished as much in downtown’s Old Wilmington City Market.
“We started talking about opening the shop two months ago, while sitting on the couch,” Nuznoff said.
“Now, here we are,” Rishel chimed in.
Their business, The Cheese Board, is located on the Riverwalk in downtown Wilmington.
“We’ve already seen folks grab some nosh and head to the boardwalk to enjoy it,” Nuznoff said. “It’s the best view in town.”
Nuznoff is the handy man of the business, having poured its concrete bar and installed all the wine racks, as well as helped with the business’ electric and plumbing needs.
Rishel brings to the partnership restaurant experience. In Ohio, where both friends grew up, Rishel owned and operated a 5,000 square-foot, full-service eatery, Peach Tree Southern Kitchen and Cocktails.
The 22-seat, 700-square-foot Cheese Board is a different kind of project that revolves around less fuss, according to Rishel. “My last restaurant was an aggressive operation, with a basement jazz lounge and spiral staircase leading to an upstairs banquet room,” he said.
The Cheese Board focuses on selling affordable varieties of wine and cheese, either to enjoy onsite or to go. Within the shop’s first five days of opening last week, it sold out of everything except 12 bottles of wine and a few bottles of craft beer.
“We sold out of so much wine, I thought I was going to have to stomp the grapes on the boards to make more,” Rishel quipped.
They also didn’t have many morsels left from their 24 varieties of cheese. To be exact, they sold 98 pounds.
By Tuesday evening, Rishel had the shop restocked with 20 cases of wine, and all of its domestic and import cheeses lined the cooler again.
“This is the first chance we’ve really had to just breathe,” he said.
The shop is currently closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Though that may change as Nuznoff and Rishel hire staff, something they hadn’t expected to do within the first week of opening. Customers have been knocking on the shop’s doors, even during off hours.
“The mall has really seen a resurgence in clientele,” Rishel said, pointing to the open air of the City Market, which was built in the 1880s and used to be a food market.
Falling under the agriculture code instead of that regulated by the health department, The Cheese Board doesn’t lend itself to be a full restaurant; the historic building doesn’t have a hood system or grease trap. So all boards are pre-cut and packaged ahead of time.
Rishel is up daily and in the shop by 8 a.m. putting together the four varieties of boards they sell:
- Sweet & Spicy: Ohio three-pepper gouda, Wisconsin Monterey jack habanero, Wisconsin vanilla blue goat cheese
- Western Europe: English farmhouse cheddar, English blue stilton, English honey goat, French port wine Derby, Wisconsin Artigiano
- Mediterranean Europe: feta, Greek garlic-herb goat cheese, hickory smoked mozzarella, Wisconsin fontina, Wisconsin manchego, Spanish fresh rosemary
- Americana: provolone, Wisconsin asiago, Illinois garlic-herb goat cheese, Wisconsin burrata, Wisconsin fresh basil
Each board comes with a mixture of nuts, whole fruits — grapes, strawberries, blueberries and apricots — as well as a half loaf of fresh baked French bread, crackers, tart cherry preserves, local honey, fig preserves, olives and hot pickled peppers.
“I want to eventually pickle my own stuff,” said Rishel, a trained chef from the Winner Institute of Arts & Sciences.
The boards come with small bites of sea-salt chocolate caramels for a sweet finish — one that will include homemade chocolate chip cookies, eventually.
Rishel plans to switch up the board menu monthly.
To source the cheese, the entrepreneurs drive or fly (Nuznoff is a licensed pilot) across North Carolina to find what they want. They’re also in search of farms to work with directly.
“I see The Cheese Board becoming a hub for local and regional cheese for other restaurants,” Rishel said, “buying wheels and distributing them to other restaurants, even. There is nowhere in town to really do this, other than through restaurant wholesalers.”
Locally, the shop sells Veggie Wagon varieties of pimento and goat cheeses, plus they stock its hummus and fresh green salads. Rishel said they may add wraps to go on the lunch menu. Priced under $10, it includes items like cheese and bread, Greek salad and bread, and a chicken salad sandwich.
Local art from Leslie Campbell adorns the walls, including her popular 1,000 Crane Project, which features two mobiles of origami paper cranes that cascade from tree branches near the ceiling. Campbell will curate shows multiple times a year at The Cheese Board.
Rishel and Nuznoff also have rented the 15-foot-by-15-foot kiosk in front of their shop to sell other artists’ works. They will have the handmade wooden boards the shop serves cheese on for sale, too. From small boards to large, thick chopping blocks, prices range from $19 to $75.
“I feel like this business is a blessing,” Rishel said, “and we have an obligation to share that blessing. So we’re lending our walls and space to local artists.”
The eatery will have specialized community events, including a pie swap on Thanksgiving eve, where customers bring in a boxed pie they baked to swap with another. And the business owners already were approached about hosting an oyster dinner from the local oyster farm, Three Little Spats.
“The owners supported our business on day one and loved us, and we love them back,” Rishel said. “So they wanna shuck oysters here one night, and I think that would be a crowd-pleaser.”
He envisions two seatings only. The menu will consist of cheese, wine and oysters, served with mignonette, cocktail sauce and lemons.
“We like simple,” Rishel added.
The shop also will host weekly cheese tastings every Wednesday, wine tastings every Thursday, and on Sunday, half-priced cheese boards are for sale — a big hit with customers, already. It was slammed last Sunday, from opening to close, according to the owners.
“It was crazy,” Nuznoff said.
It’s Nuznoff’s first go as a restaurateur. He owns a mobile marine service and works in operations for an airline. The only restaurant experience he ever procured was at Arby’s when he was 14 and as a soda jerk at the A&W when he was 16.
“He went from soda jerk to wine jerk,” Rishel joked.
Rishel, too, has had his hands in multiple businesses, including a yoga studio and day spa — the latter of which he and Nuznoff already are toying around with opening across the way from The Cheese Board.
“It would make for a perfect day for tourists: wine, cheese, a massage or hair blowout,” Rishel envisioned aloud.
He and Nuznoff clearly have fun working together and share a comfort in camaraderie that only 15 years of friendship can bring.
“I trust him completely,” Nuznoff said.
“Every morning I send Brad a text, sharing my daily agenda,” Rishel explained. “He shares his, and off we go to divide and conquer. We are both doing what we’re good at doing. I’m good at cost-effective menu planning and purchasing, and he can repair anything. He’s also a strong salesman.”
Though only in week two of operations, they already have plans to evolve The Cheese Board. They want its garage-door windows to open, as to add six barstools on the cobblestone sidewalk to host outdoor diners. They also have a nook in the mall where people can sit and watch passersby shop.
“Half of our customers have been tourists,” Rishel said with surprise. “Our demographic is very mixed and eclectic, and it matches what we’ve built. We have modern furniture mixed with antiques, local art everywhere, and cheese and wine.”
The business owners are aiming to keep it a casual dining experience. No bottle is over $33; no cheese is over $24 a pound. Their average ticket is around $30. Rishel said he will experiment with adding more inventory as the shop finds its groove.
“It’s unpretentious, it’s affordable,” he said. “It’s a very happy place. We are having a really good time. We keep hearing people say it’s like a European experience, with the cobblestone streets and the sunset on the river. It’s been a lot of work, but, ultimately, it’s a lot of fun.”
The Cheese Board, located at 119 S. Water Street #12, is open Wednesday through Sunday at 11 a.m. and closes weeknights at 7 p.m., except Thursday through Saturday, when it stays open until 11 p.m. Hours are subject to change.
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