It’s one of the few things in life that bring instant happiness to most people. I equate it to the same twinge of joy you feel seeing a laughing baby, a sleepy puppy, or a double rainbow. Plus, cheese makes everything better… macaroni (and cheese), broccoli (and cheese), wine (and cheese). So, what’s even better than cheddar? How about a family owned, specialty cheese shop, located right here in Hammond, America, offering more than fifty specialty cheeses from around the world designed specifically to tantalize your taste buds!
Needless to say, we at the Tangi Review, yearned to learn from Hammond’s newest cheese queens regarding the in’s and out’s of this new boutique food shop. We quizzed Ashley Pecquet and Lori Lucas, co-owners of The Rind Cheese Shop & Catering, to get the squeeze on cheese.
As Ashley walked us through the recently renovated shop on University Avenue, she explained that their goal was to create a welcoming environment where customers would feel comfortable to sit, learn, ask questions, and visit with friends. Clearly they hit the nail on the head because just walking into The Rind gives you a warm feeling of cozy sophistication. The Rind delivers an atmosphere capable of hosting nearly any event whether it’s kicking back to enjoy a glass of Pinot Grigio with friends or networking for a business function.
According to Pecquet, The Rind is a full fledged cheese shop offering multiple benefits to the foodies of Hammond including an assortment of imported cheeses, perfectly paired wines, and catering services. They are also the new hotspot for gatherings with less than 75 people.
Ashley mentioned that since opening the doors early this year, The Rind has hosted baby showers, business events, birthday parties, and more!
Like most ambitious business owners, Lori and Ashley don’t take the cheese business lightly. While The Rind has only been open a year, Lori and Ashley have more than 44 years of combined experience in the cheese industry. Their cheese journey began nearly 30 years ago when Lori Lucas, stepped into a predominantly male business world to launch L&L Brokerage. The cheese brokerage, now co-owned by both Lori and Ashley, supports the import of cheeses into the United States for warehouse distributors selling to grocery stores, hotels, and casinos. “Cheese has always been a part of our life,” Ashley explained. She continued to say that she began working for her mother, Lori, after high school and bought into the business four years ago. While the brokerage is still a major part of their professional endeavors, a retail cheese shop has always been the dream. To educate people so they understand and fully experience the insatiable intricacies of each cheese is a priority for these sharp businesswomen.
We asked, what has been the biggest hurdle in transitioning from the brokerage to the retail shop…
Per Ashley, managing a retail shop is much different than brokering cheese programs for wholesalers. In the wholesale industry, the focus is on creating a “cheese program” for each client and then allowing the wholesaler to manage the daily tasks. In retail, they run everything. From creation and implementation of the programs to management and servicing, they are handle each detail. And, Lori and Ashley love every minute of it!
Hearing that a retail shop is so different from the brokerage cheese business, would you have done anything differently when starting your business?
“Absolutely NOT,” exclaimed Pecquet. She clarified that they knew there would be “hiccups” and “there were quite a few of them,” laughed Ashley. However, it seemed that any glitch quickly worked itself out. They knew there would be challenges. There always are with new opportunities. That’s exactly why these smart ladies made it a point to strive for progress, a hallmark of most successful business owners.
If a customer was to choose between your business and a local grocery store or other competitor, why would you suggest they at least give you a try ﬁrst?
Ashley passionately answered, “because to us, it’s not just cheese.” She continued that she and Lori are mavens in their field and yearn to
provide customers with an experience like no other. She went on to say that it’s unfortunate when competitors try to brand themselves as “experts” and then deliver a poor experience for customers. She gave an example of pairing coordinating cheeses on a tray. Pepper jack and Rosemary Goat Cheeses would never pair well. Similarly, they’ll work with customers to understand what’s on the rest of the menu so they can perfectly coordinate cheeses, wines, and anything else to ensure a cohesive dining experience. It’s just not a grocery store experience. It’s custom. It’s personal. Ashley feels like that’s the same struggle for most small businesses which is why she thinks it so important to continue re-inventing yourself and educating the consumer.
As a new business, how are you reaching customers?
“Our primary avenue for reaching new customers has definitely been social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram,” said Ashley. She said they often post specials, new cheeses, trays, and events. Most recently, they’ve garnered a ton of excitement around the new snack packs for both kids and adults. She also mentioned that they are launching a newsletter with VIP ONLY offers for members; so, be sure to reach out to The Rind to get added to their email list! Ashley feels that digital channels like this are the BEST way to get the word out to most customers.
Looking forward, six months to a year, where would you like to see your business?
She would like to expand possibly toward Baton Rouge because she sees an untapped market full of potential for what The Rind offers. She is also toying with the idea of moving toward the downtown area because she envisions old Hammond as the “new hip” place to be.
Ashley expanded upon the question sharing her longer term vision regarding ownership goals with the Tangi Review. She said that while she always wants to be 100% involved with the management and decisions in the business, she does look forward to having added freedom and flexibility to spend more time with her two precious girls and husband Drew.
In wrapping up the dialogue, I did have one last question for Ashley. I first explained to her my feelings on cheese. To me, a good cheese plate (sometimes accompanied by bottle of wine) means heartfelt conversations with friends, a relaxing retreat at the end of a long day, or just A treat to make me smile…
…What does cheese mean to you?
After thinking a moment, Ashley decisively answered, “to me, cheese means future.” Ashley felt her mother Lori started a legacy for them.
She envisions a place for her daughters to work after school where she can teach them the value of a dollar and all they can accomplish as strong women. She hopes that one day one of her daughters will share the same family passion and continue the legacy that they have worked so hard to build.
Running a small business is certainly no small feat. We at the Tangi Review would like to thank both Ashley and Lori for taking time out their day to share their passion (and their cheese) with us.
If you have never visited The Rind, we encourage you to stop in and sample some of the different varieties of cheese while you browse. You’ll always find either Lori or Ashley in the shop, anxious to share the unique story behind each cheese.
Also, be on the lookout for upcoming special creations like some of the most popular offerings:
- Cheese & Wine of the Month Club – pairs three specialty cheeses with wines each month
- Holiday Baskets custom to the season… Back to School, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all on the horizon!
- Cheese Houses – all the rage for realtors, lenders, & real estate professionals to give clients
- Cheese Trays for any event or gathering
- Gift Baskets – perfect for employee appreciation, teachers, or any occasion!
- Full Event Catering
So, as we’ve learned, you don’t need to be a wine snob or cheese aficionado to craft the perfect combo for your next event. While, having a bit of knowledge about wine and cheese never hurts, with some help from The Rind, you can create a cheese board your friends and family will love.
The Rind Cheese Shop & Catering
1307 W. University Ave.
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