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Michael Kline: 0:00:00.0 So today is the 13th of November, 2013. We're sitting in the Trustees' Room of the Concord Free Public Library, with all these great authors—Concord authors. And I'm here with Carrie Kline. My name is Michael Kline. And would you say, "My name is," and please tell us your name?
Peter Lovis: My name is Peter Lovis.
MK: Oh, that was perfect. And your date of birth, please?
PL: I was born on the 6th of April, 1961.
MK: Okay—maybe you'd start off—if you would, tell us about—a little bit about your people and where you were raised.
PL: I was raised in northern New Jersey, outside of New York City, in a small town called North Caldwell, and I started working in the cheese business in 1976 in downtown Caldwell, New Jersey.
MK: As a—quite a youngster.
PL: Yep, I was 15—it was great. I started October 16th, 1976. Mr. Knowles, who I'm still in touch with, gave me the job, and I just—I loved it incredibly. Three weeks into the job he gave me my first raise, and then that February—for February vacation, so it's February '77—I wasn't even 16 years old yet—he gave me the keys to the store, and he and his wife went away to St. Bart's for the week. His son came up every night to collect the money, and his son came up on Saturday to help me take care of the customers, because it was busier on Saturdays. And it was just, just an amazing experience, the fact that he would trust somebody so young, and that he certainly instilled the love of service and love of product, the love of retail—it's just really special for me.
MK: Tell us a little bit more about that business. So what was it called?
PL: It was called The Cheese Shop. It was one of the franchises—The Cheese Shops International started in 1860 in New York City, and they moved up to Greenwich, Connecticut, sometime—maybe the '20s or '30s—I'm not really sure. And in the '60s and '70s, they started selling franchises. So in the case of Mr. Knowles, he was—he worked for, I think, Bic Pen—and he was a pen salesman, and his territory was New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. And in the case of Bill Barber, my predecessor here in Concord, he was a French teacher at St. Mark's, a private school. And—you know—in the middle of their career, now what do you want to do? "I don't know—let's buy a franchise and own our own business." So they were all independently owned and operated, and what the franchise would do would be to take a percentage of sales as a fee, and you would go to Greenwich, Connecticut, to be trained how to operate a cheese store, and then you would go to your own location, pay—find a building, and start selling cheese. And you'd get a monthly newsletter, and you'd get little special prices off as one of the franchises, and you'd get the bags, which was really great, because instead of—one store's going to do 100,000 bags at that price with 90 stores across the country, you can get the million bag run in price. So we all had our own little bags, and little things for gift baskets, and they'd put the H box and E box—only people from The Cheese Shop know what those are. And there are still a handful of us around for that—from—
MK: 0:03:50.2 The H box and the E box?
PL: That was just the size and shape of the box. (laughs) And we'd make lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of boxes back then. The franchise itself collapsed in the mid to late '80s, so all the franchisees were no longer affiliated with what I call "The Mothership." But there's still a handful of them around—there's Concord, Wellesley—Darien, Connecticut—Indianapolis, Beverly Hills, and Carmel. And the guy that worked for the—the owner of Wasik's, Steve Wasik—
Carrie Kline: Spell it?
PL: —W-A-S-I-K—it's Wasik's Cheese Shop over in Wellesley—he worked for the franchise, Cheese Shops International. Well, his girlfriend, Carol, had a brother, Ken. And so Steve gave Ken a job working at Cheese Shops International, and Ken liked it so much he opened—he started Cheese Shop Darien. And then Steve left the "Mothership"—the franchise in Greenwich, and bought the one in Wellesley in '79, I think.
CK: Darien, did you say?
PL: Connecticut. Darien, Connecticut.
CK: Uh-hunh. (affirmative)
PL: And another guy that used to work for the franchise was—opened his own store in Centerbrook. So there's a small group of us still around that still do it—that still sell the cheese The Cheese Shop way—which is great.
MK: The—The Cheese Shop Way.
PL: 0:05:29.2 To—lots of sampling, everything cut to order—a very knowledgeable staff—staff that tends to stay a long time, because they have a lot of pride in the knowledge that they've been able to accumulate—really the ability to taste cheese before you buy it is the—is the key thing. And the way it's set up—I can walk into a cheese shop, and I'll know that—if this was affiliated with The Cheese Shops International back in the day. It just has the same kind of look and feel, because that's how the franchise put it out there—that's what you were buying. You were buying—you were buying an operating method when you went to buy a franchise.
MK: Let's go back a little further. Now, I'm interested in the enthusiasm with which you took this on as a 15 year old—was cheese a big thing in the—did your mother serve a lot of cheese, or make cheese, or—?
PL: No, my parents—they've been to Europe a couple of times when I was a kid, and so there was cheese sort of in the perimeter of my life, but it wasn't a—it certainly wasn't an essential piece. I went downtown because I wanted to get a job, and I went to the greengrocer, and the hardware store, and the deli, and the drugstore, and any of the—photo store, and the guy at The Cheese Shop gave me the job. And Mr. Knowles was—is—he's not as tall now as he was then, because he's 87 now—I would stand next to him as he was interacting with a customer, and if I had a question or something I would just go behind the counter—just kind of tap his foot a little bit. So he would kind of make a mental note of what was happening then, and we could go back and talk about it. So I think it's the—to me, it's the love of the service. Just selling cheese is just—it's a blast. It's so much fun. You get to—people will tell you what they're doing, they tell you about their party, they tell you about their friends. You give them a taste of something that's not quite right—you give them a taste of something else and it's perfect, and they smile—and, "How much would you like?" And we hear all the time—"A little bigger—oh, that's perfect. That's perfect." You're giving people perfection in their life that they want. You're giving them just an exact perfect thing that they want. And when people are waiting in line here, in Concord, on Saturdays or when we're busy during the holiday season—every year I hear, at least a couple, 3 times, "Wow, this is a great place to wait in line." Because as I'm helping the person that I'm helping, I'm also giving samples to the people that are waiting to be served. So I think it's a—it's a culture of service, and the thrill of—I mean, it's the thrill of the sale—I like to sell—and I just love to make people happy—and it's the only profession I know where you can pleasure people twice, because they're having a great experience shopping with you right now. And then they go home, and when they serve it to their friends, their family, their guests, they're having a great time again, all because of what we did. It's really a great thing. It's really a great thing. I wouldn't trade—I've worked in the wholesale business—worked in the importing business, selling to distributors—I've worked through the entire supply chain. But I love people, and—and I love retail. It's just great stuff.
MK: A culture of service. That's fascinating.
PL: I think that's what it is. You have to—you have to—you have to want to please people. They're your customers. They're the purpose of your work, not an interruption of it. They're—they're doing us a favor by coming to see us—we're not doing them a favor by serving them. It's—and the appreciation of that, and the love of it, and the excitement of it—it's just—it's a gas. It's just an absolute gas. Even when I was in the importing business, I still worked at a little retail wine shop, because I didn't have my hand—in the importing business, you don't have your hands on the product all the time. You're talking about pallets of things, or cases, and you're talking about numbers—case numbers—but you don't—it's not a thing. It's just a number. When you're in retail you're touching it, you're tasting it, you're eating it, you're smelling it, you're absorbing it at every step of the way. And it's cool. (laughs) Isn't that crazy? I'll never work another day of my life, because I love what I do. When I'm selling cheese—it was about a month ago—yeah, it was about a month ago now—I was doing—Tuesday and Wednesday are my days in Concord to do the administrative stuff. I write all the checks, do all that kind of stuff. I was doing some really painfully tedious stuff—I don't remember what, but it was—this license, this insurance, this letter that I have to comply with for the Affordable Care Act, and, yeah. So it was—like—October 1st. And at the end of the—around 4:00, I was tired. I had been sitting in the—sitting in the chair all day looking at the computer, and making decisions, and writing stuff, and having to find stuff, and—just all that administrative stuff. I looked at one of the—one of my folks that works for me, and I'm like, "You know, I didn't buy this store to do this. I don't like doing this. This is really a drag." And she looked at me and says, "What's the matter?" I said, "This is like—I don't like this part of the business. I don't want to do this." And I guess I was tearing up a little bit—I had a tear in my eye. She says, "You're crying." I'm like, "No, I'm not—I'm just—just like—I just want to sell cheese. I just—what I want to do. I just want to sell some cheese." She said, "You can sell cheese all day tomorrow—I'll take care of everything else." And that's—it was a great thing. And I had a great day the next day. I just had a great day. I had lots of customers, and I was selling what I wanted to sell, and I was tasting lots of stuff, and I was just like—I was giddy—it was so much fun. Because I—because I'm not going to make any decisions today about how the business operates—you know, the administrative part of the business. So that's what I get to do. I took the next day off, and I just went to work.
When I started at the store, it was probably October '98. And a good friend of mine was the general manager here—a gal that I went to college with, and she and I were in the food business together, and we stayed in touch, and she was the GM here. And I came here with my wife to buy some cheese, and we had a good time and bought a bunch of stuff. And we're on our way out, and Ellen says—the—the—my friend—"You know, you should put an apron on and come—come back to retail." "Oh, I've been out of retail for so long, I don't know that I could do that." She goes, "Yeah, I think you probably could. You'd really like to." "No, I don't think so." "Yeah, just join us for a couple of days." Then my wife and I were driving over to West Concord to the—over to the Five & Dime—it was kind of a—you go to The Cheese Shop, and then you go over to the Five & Dime—that's how we did Concord at the time. And my wife says, "You want to do that, don't you." I said, "What?" She says, "You're thinking about going to work there." "Oh, no, no, no—I couldn't do that." At the time I was the executive director of a non-profit over in Lowell helping people start small businesses, and I had a great job—my administrative assistant did all my work, I sat in the corner office and signed things, and I was meeting boy. I'd go to 4 or 5 meetings a day, and that was my day. It was pretty easy—it's a pretty easy gig. So anyway, I said, "Well—you know—I'll try it—maybe I'll try it again." So the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 1998, I took the day off from my job in Lowell and I came down here to see if I could get this retail thing going again.
MK: Thursday before Thanksgiving?
PL: 0:14:19.5 The Thursday before—so I wanted a busy day, but I didn't want a crazy day in case I was all thumbs—I didn't want to bungle stuff. If I'd—if I'd lost it—I hadn't been in retail for 8 years. But show me where the aprons are, put a cheese plane in my hand—and I just had the greatest time. It was so much fun. So in '98, '99, and 2000, I would—I took a couple—I took days off from work, and Saturdays—just during the holidays—and I'd work 6 or 7 days, just to come down—come down to Concord and sell cheese. And it was December 24th—no, it was actually—in October 2000 I got a call at my office in Lowell, and it was the—the previous owner, asking me if I was going to come down again this year. I said, "Well, I don't know—my wife's pregnant, she's due early December." We have a deal that I was going to take 9 weeks paternity leave, and I would do all the stuff during the day, and—you know, the laundry, and the cooking, and the cleaning, and all that—but I would sleep at night. She could sleep during the day with the baby, and I would sleep at night—because if the baby woke up at night, it probably wanted something that she was much able—much more easy to solve than I was. So I said, "I don't know." And he says, "Well, Ellen just left, and I—we could really use your help." I was like, "Okay." So anyway, I worked like 4 days—talked to my wife, and I worked like 4 days, Christmas time, 2000. And—and on Christmas Eve, I was saying, "Goodbye, I'll see you next year." And Mrs. Barber said, "Well, we may not see you next year. The store's for sale." Now I've got a month-old baby at home. I'm 2 years into a master's degree program, and my—my life was great. I had a great job, great benefits, great hours—and I wanted to buy the store so badly. We signed a—we signed all the—the non-disclosure, all that paperwork—and I made an offer in April. Well, probably in March. So in early April, they called me up, and we wanted to have lunch with his family—the Barbers—and then my family. And they turned down my offer. And—okay. They had a better offer on the table, so that's understandable. I'm not going to—I had a great job, I wasn't looking for a job. And my wife and I went to Maine that weekend, and I was a little disappointed, but I understood. And then in July—June or July—he called me back, and he said, "Is your offer still good?" I said, "Yeah, but that's all I've got—that's the offer I've got on the table. I'm not playing hardball here or anything—that's—why?" He says, "Well, I just don't think these people are going to keep it the same. I think they're going to change it, and I can't do that to the people of Concord."
CK: So who had called you?
PL: Bill Barber, the previous owner.
PL: Barber. B-A-R-B-E-R. Barber. So he turned down my offer in April, and then called me back in June or July, and—because he couldn't do that to the people of Concord, that had been so good to him for so long—20-plus years. And so we signed a purchase and sale in August. And that's—he worked for me for 3, 4 years doing the wine, which was his hobby—he loves the wine, that was his favorite part of it. And so he continued to work there—so see, we never made a really big, public splash that it was new ownership or anything. I worked there as manager to own, and then we just signed the final papers, and that was great. And the—I think—I really appreciate what he did, and that's meant a lot to me in terms of how I feel about supporting the community and making sure that the community is valued and treated respectfully as far as having a world-class cheese shop amongst—amongst—right downtown, little town of Concord. I do conferences and things where people—cheese shops—are asking, "What's your square footage?" And, "What are your sales?" And—you know—panels and things like that at—at trade—trade conferences. And—small town—I mean, Concord doesn't have a $100,000—100,000 person population. We're only open 38—38-1/2 hours a week. We're closed on Sundays, we're closed on Mondays. It's like, "Really? That's—that's all?" Like, "That's it. That's it." It's just a small-town, world-class cheese shop in a nice—in a world-class town.
MK: 0:19:55.8 So at the time of this tremendous turnaround, you were living in Lowell then?
PL: Oh, I was living in Townsend—I was working in Lowell. I still live in Townsend. My wife and I bought a house in Townsend in '95. Yeah.
MK: And you moved there from—?
PL: From Littleton—and prior to that was Hingham—and prior to that was Washington, D.C.
MK: So you really knew—you really knew the area pretty well. I mean, you knew eastern Massachusetts pretty well.
PL: Yeah—yeah. Pretty well.
MK: And you knew this world-class cheese shop—
MK: —because you used to come to Concord just to do cheese and—
PL: To buy cheese. I first went into this store in the mid-'80s when I was in the wholesale business, and I sold Bill cheese. I was his—he was my customer. So that's how I got to know this store, when I first—when I sold to Wasik's, and there was a few other cheese shops around. So I was the outside salesperson for a distributor—for a cheese distributor. So I would go to all the stores and try to sell them cheese. But I knew that if I—I—Bill would place the order, but there was an amazing French woman, Madame LePrieux—everybody just knew her as Madame. And she was the flavor of the cheese shop. Bill and Louise owned it, but Madame was the flavor. So I always—whenever I left having sold Bill some cheese, I would always make sure that I went out and I spent time with Madame—so—because she was the one who was going to put it in the bags, and I'd be able to get a re-order. She was great. So when she passed away in 1999, although she'd never worked—2009, excuse me—she never worked for me, but she had this stool that she would always sit on, which—and sitting is an offense in retail. You don't sit when you're in retail. You stand. But she had a stool. So I had her stool engraved in her memory, because she was just a great—she was a great lady. She was an institution in Concord. A lot of people in Concord actually thought she owned the store. And she acted like it. She was great—she was—she was just a scream.
CK: What was her name again?
PL: 0:22:22.2 Madeleine LePrieux—and I'd have to look at the spelling, I don't—
CK: On the stool.
PL: —I'd have to look on the stool, exactly. (laughs) She never worked for me. I knew her—she retired from the store before I—before I worked there, even when I worked there in '98 and '99 just temporarily—in the seasonal—couple days a year worker. She wasn't there then. But I knew her from when I was in the wholesale business. It was a very sad day when she left us. And it was a very sad day when Bill Barber left us a couple Augusts ago.
MK: So tell me, it—it's still called The Cheese Shop?
PL: The Cheese Shop, yep.
MK: And the location is?
PL: 29 Walden Street. There's 2 streets in downtown Concord, Main Street and the other street. We're on the other street.
MK: How would you rank it, of all the cheese shops that you have served or been acquainted with—was this a really special one from the get-go?
PL: Yeah. It was—it's been a world-class cheese shop ever since I've known it—since the early '80s. With full service, with expert help—yeah, it's—it's small, because it's not an urban environment. You're not drawing from hundreds of thousands of people that can walk there. But the selection and the service is top notch—always has been and always will be as long as I'm involved.
MK: Tell me about your employees now. Who—do you manage to hang on to people for a while? Or—what sort of people would want to work in a cheese shop?
PL: My employees—people tend to come in when they're in a certain phase of their life—when they're in a certain life stage—and are looking for something else to do, or just think this would be fun. There's lots of different examples. That's kind of how they come into the door—if they're the successful ones, that's how they get in the door. But then they tend to stay for a long time. I've got 16 employees, and more than half of them have been with me for 5 years or more. This is a retail business—it's not a—I'm not a huge corporation—easy job. This is usually a very transient sort of industry. And they stay for a long time. I think—I think that has a lot to do with the way I—the way I manage them. People are really—really special to me, and I like to treat them well. I like to treat them the way I like to be treated. I'm not a yeller and screamer. I'm very calm—no drama—let's get it done. Give lots of positive feedback when they're doing great things—try to give them opportunities to grow and develop and learn new things and learn new skills. And I don't know what it is that I do—if I did I'd do more of it—but it must be doing something right, because they stick around. And the college kids—they all want summer jobs, right? College students want summer jobs. Well, I don't have a summer job, but I try to hire one or two—either high school graduated seniors or first-year college freshmen over that summer, and they agree to come back every year for Christmas. And they keep coming back. I've got 2 that have been with me for 9 Christmases, and several that have been 5, 6, 7 Christmases. It's crazy. And then when they come back, even if they've graduated from college and they've gone off to their own career, still when they come in—these are my kids. These are like my kids. And there's a—there's a great deal of love. I tell my employees all the time—you will never work for anybody that loves you as much as I do—truly loves you as much as I do. And they tell me that later. I get calls or emails from—"Oh, this boss is a real animal. You're right." You'll never work for anybody that loves you the way I do. And I love them—I really love my kids—and all my employees—my regular year-rounders—a great deal. And they stick around, too, so I've got to be doing something right. If I knew more about what it was, I'd do more of it. But I just try to—try to do the best I can, and treat people as I want to be treated. In 2008, the economy collapsed in the 4th quarter, which is our most critical time, but in 2009 I started a 401k for my employees. In winter of 2010—
MK: 0:27:56.4 401k?
PL: —401k retirement plan. And in 2010 I put in a 1% match—2011 I put in—now I have a 2% match.
CK: (???)(inaudible) 0:28:06.9
CK: The match, I mean.
PL: If they put in 1% of their salary in, I match that 1%. If they put 2% in, I match 2—2%. If they put 3% in, and I have a 2% match, I just match the 2%. But right now I'm up to a 4% match for my—and so, whereas a small—small business with a—particularly with a lot of young people, they're able to invest in some of their retirement. I also hire a financial advisor to come in 4 times a year to try to develop some economic literacy and some awareness on how to think about your finances—think about your budget long-term. So you—you think of a 22-year-old person that's putting in a couple thousand dollars, and getting a couple thousand dollars back from me—what that's going to be when they're 65, 70 years old and they're ready to retire. They'll have some serious—it could be some serious money—if the markets continue to do okay. But I try to invest in them as best I can and share what I know and give them what I think they need to know—if not from me, from somebody else.
MK: Very unusual.
PL: Yeah. Yeah. Pretty crazy. My accountant hates me sometimes. But you don't run a food business by the numbers. And I know the numbers—I know every number in my store. I know what—I know them all. But you run a business—a food business, I believe—really believe, particularly—you've got to run it by your heart. You can't just run it by the numbers. It's got to be run from the heart, and that's what I do. And I've got a lot of heart—I've got a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and a lot of—and a lot of love to give.
MK: 0:29:52.3 Now talk about your customers. Who are they? Do you—do you get just local people, or is it tourists? Who comes in—how do you size them up, and how do you deal with them?
PL: We deal with every customer individually. There is no one type of customer. Every customer is an individual, all right. You can't treat anybody any different from who they are. And if you treat them with respect, listen to what they're saying—try to figure out what they're saying even if they don't know what they're saying—you'll get customers that want something that's soft and French, and it turns out what they really wanted was something firm and Dutch. But you have to listen. Listening is a real life skill. Listen to what people are asking for. We have—we—we have—well, I break my customers into 3 different groups. The first group I call the convenience buyer, and those are people that come in 3 or 4 times a week—they're picking up either a little bit of lunch, or it's the tourists that are—it's not the same tourist from Madison, Wisconsin—it's the same busload. It's a fairly frequent visit with a minimal—not a really big ticket. And that comes from a really small geography, so I'm pulling just from downtown employees and tourists, basically. Then I have the lifestyle buyers, who are customers that believe that The Cheese Shop in Concord enhances their lives. That, too, is a frequent visit—probably once a week—but it's a big ticket. It's a $100 ticket, versus the $10-$15 ticket of the convenience buyer. And they're both from the small, immediate—you know, the lifestyle buyers might come from the contiguous towns—Carlisle, Lincoln—and having The Cheese Shop available to them is important. They shop the whole store—they might do some catering—they buy sliced meats, they buy olive oil, they buy cheese, they buy crackers, they buy wine—that's why they live here, because they love to have us nearby. They don't have to go to Boston to get a world-class specialty food store. And then I have what I call a—the special occasion buyer, and these people may come only 3 or 4 times a year. They, too, shop the whole store. But they come from a huge geography—up to an hour away. We draw people on a regular basis from as far away as Wooster, Duxbury—an hour's drive. People—a lot of people drive up to an hour to come to Concord to The Cheese Shop, which is pretty good. And that's not just good for me—I mean, they don't just come to The Cheese Shop. They're also going to the toy store, and the bookstore, and the clothing stores, and the jewelry stores, they're looking around—but it's like, "What do you want to do today?" "Oh, let's go to The Cheese Shop and see what's going on in Concord," which is great. Those are great customers. It's kind of the 3 broad groups—but again, it's really—there's lots of merging in those groups—there's a special—a convenience buyer that becomes a lifestyle buyer, or—it's mostly a convenience buyer, but occasionally is a special occasion buyer—maybe they buy sandwiches every day, but they use—they're having a party, so they want to behave as—who normally would be the special occasion buyer. So there's lots of—and so everybody really is treated individually, and I think that's how people need to be treated. You can't just group people into one and treat them all the same. Everybody's an individual, everybody has their own wants, everybody has their own communication style, everybody has their own interpretation of what's sharp, or salty—and then that comes down to listening and paying attention to the individual that's in front of you. It's a gas, I'm telling you—selling cheese is a gas. It's a hoot. I love it.
MK: You got this store essentially because the previous owner was afraid that your rival—your rivals there would change it—
PL: 0:34:54.2 Yeah.
MK: —would make it into something else. What kind of changes have you made to the store in—it's 14 years now, isn't it, that you're going on with it?
PL: Yep. It'll be—I've been the owner—I started full-time in October '11, I guess—yeah, October '11, I think. Yeah. And then we closed the final deal in November 2003. So my tenth anniversary is coming up in a couple of weeks. But again—we never made a big splash as to—there was going to be new ownership, or that we'd ever—we both agreed not to make a big deal of that, because we didn't want to have people like, "Oh, no—what's going—what's happening at The Cheese Shop? What's going on?" Because this is—it's an institution in town—it's been a well-run business for 46 years. I'm very proud to be the third owner, and have 10 years as the third owner under my belt. Changes that I have made—very little that the—the customer would be able to see or put their finger on. I think I've—I've elevated the level of service and expertise. I think people are staying—my employees are staying longer, which makes them more expert. I've done some capacity-building things, like putting in a new walk-in that we didn't have before, so that makes things a lot easier.
MK: A walk-in?
PL: A walk-in cooler. It's a big refrigerated box. But not—not anything that the customer would really see physically, because it's still an old store with worn out rugs and wooden beams and baskets' handles that sometimes don't come off perfectly, but they're good enough to hold a bag full of groceries. Not a lot—not a lot. And I don't—it doesn't need to be changed. It's—it works well. And the counter's the same, and the smiles are the same, and the samples are the same, and—maybe I've lifted it a little bit, but that's not to say that it wouldn't have been elevated because—as times change, things change. Back in the '70s, we were selling Colby Longhorn and Gourmandise with Kirsh—not cheese that you would find in a fine cheese store anymore, but that's what was around then. Now you wouldn't find port wine logs rolled in walnuts anymore, but that was a big thing in the '70s and early '80s. So it's—it's really hard to say what would've—would've happened, but it's a great place. It's just a great place. People come, people are comfortable, people gather there, people eat there—and anytime we eat—eating together is one of the most bonding things that humans do. So whether it's—you just killed a mastodon, and let's all get together and eat this mastodon—you have 5 guys killing a mastodon, and then 40 people enjoying the meal together—it's a civilization building thing. First dates—what do you do for a first date? You get a cup of coffee, or you go out for lunch. What's the best time when families are together? It's when they get together and they share a Thanksgiving meal—they're eating together. That's what bonds us to humans is—the eating is a huge piece of that glue. And we eat with people all the time, and we bond with people. People bond with their friends and their family through that which we have provided to them. So it's a—it's a—really, if you think about it mystically, it's just a tremendous way to put human to human. It's probably above the baloney of a small, little cheese store, but that's what I believe. So—
CK: And you're eating together in terms of the samples, or—?
PL: 0:39:43.8 Yeah, in terms of the samples, or listening to what you're feeding—we're part of your meal. From the time when—it—we're part of the procurement process. And if you think about the person going to the supermarket—they've got that cart, and they're going just as fast as they can to get out of here. I want to go shopping, and I want to get this done. "Oh, I've got to go to the grocery store tonight." Why shouldn't the procurement of your food be enjoyable? Why hate going to buy your food? You're poisoning it from the very beginning, versus if you come into my store, you're going to have a great time getting your food. You're like, "This was fun." So your food starts that much better. It starts without the negatives. So the negative—a non of a negative is a positive—I'm pretty sure, I'm not a mathematician, but I think that's the way it works. So you're putting more value, more enjoyment—and then you prepare it, you enjoy preparing a meal—and then you serve it, and then you consume it—it's all positive. And so the supermarket mentality drives me nuts, because you're putting in a negative where there shouldn't be one. Another example of avoiding a negative—there's a phrase that drives me nuts, and that's—if I say, "Thank you," people reply, "No problem." What do you mean, "No problem?" Why would you—why—why would you put the essence of the possibility of a problem into a thank you? The response is not, "No problem." The response is, "You're welcome," or "My pleasure," or "Of course." "Problem?" Why "problem?" How did that phrase ever get to be? That is absurd. That kind of—so—you don't need to put in negatives in your life. There's enough of them out there that happen to us anyway. Let's rejoice in the pleasures that we have. Anyway—I'm just a stupid market—I'm just a humble little cheese shop—I—I don't know. I can't talk about how Americans disvalue their food supply and—I'm not going there.
CK: Why not?
MK: I think it's a (???)(inaudible) 0:42:12.5
CK: Yeah—that's the next step in the conversation, really, isn't it? You mentioned grocery stores—but instead—
PL: It's just so much bigger than me—I can't—I can't solve it. I can't fix it. I can provide a haven for people that care, and I can provide an example for my employees that—they do not say, "No problem." I guarantee that they don't say that. (laughs) Now it's—life is great, though. Life is truly great. We're here for a short time—make everything as pleasurable and as enjoyable and as fun and as exciting as you can possibly make it. Why not?
MK: As you—as you have strived to—for all of this protection—or perfection in your retail business, what's been going on up and down the street? How have the—how has Concord changed in these 10 years that you've been here—and the rest of the town, the rest of your street—the other businesses?
PL: Well, Concord has—it hasn't changed all that much in the 10 years. We've lost a couple of stores. It was sad to see Anderson Photo going, but people don't have pictures developed anymore—it's all digital. We lost the Harness Shop—but people don't need to replace their suitcases all that often, or their—the long-lived hard goods that—you know, you buy a briefcase, what, 3 times in our lives, do we buy a new briefcase? And there's some nice—I think there's probably more clothing, women's accessories type businesses than there was 10 years ago. But we still have the bookstore, which is a fantastic independent bookstore. We still have Vanderhoof's—we have the toy shop—we have lots of other things besides frou frou stuff that—that's not around. So it hasn't changed a whole lot. I think it's a great—it's a viable community—business community. I know I'd never own another store if I couldn't walk to the hardware store. I'd never own a business if I couldn't walk to the—I mean, I've carried—I've literally carried a sink to the hardware store and said, "Scotty, how do I fix this?" And he gets the parts and shows me how to do it. It's a great town. It's a great community. We all support each other—we know—most of us know—I know most of the merchants in town, I don't think I know all of them—I don't know all the owners, but I probably know the assistant managers or the managers.
MK: 0:45:30.8 Are you active in the Chamber? Is there an active Chamber?
PL: There's a very active Chamber, yeah. There's a great Chamber of Commerce that does a great sidewalk sale, or a Summer Sizzling Sale, where we close off the street and we have music and entertainment on the—outside. And they do that in July. And then they organize the Christmas walk, where all the stores are open until 8:00 on Thursday night—early December shopping night—and the Christmas lighting—the tree lighting ceremony. And yeah, the Chamber—as well as monthly networking opportunities at different places throughout town—they do a lot of good stuff. And then they just put together a flyer for all the events that are going on in Concord in the month of December—and I was thinking it would be a couple of pages—it was 4 pages. I had to go to another page. There's so much going on in town, which I didn't even realize. But to see it all in one place—it's not to—to someone who comes in from Wellesley, West—Jonesford, Westford, the outlying towns—it's, "Wow, there's something to do in Concord," and they come to—they come to town. And that supports all of us.
MK: Well, this is incredible. I love hearing stories of passion—
MK: —even—I didn't know anybody could be so passionate about cheese, because I'm not even allowed to eat it. I love—I love it, but I'm not allowed to eat it.
PL: Something else will kill you first—have a piece of cheese. It's great.
MK: I find all of this passion—it just tickles me to death. I'm very, very happy to have had this opportunity. But what else—what else—what else should I have asked you? Because even the retail business is beyond my comprehension, largely. What else might we have asked you that we didn't? I don't want you to feel like anything's been left out here.
PL: I can talk for days on a multitude of subjects—I can just prattle on endlessly about lots of different things.
MK: Okay—here's a question for you. What's your favorite cheese?
PL: Well, that depends on the situation. And secondly, it's kind of like asking who's my favorite child. Fortunately I got it right the first time, so we only have one. But is it—is your question then, is it my desert island cheese? I have a long life, and I can only bring one cheese with me. Is it my last supper cheese? They finally caught up with me, and I'm getting the chair in the morning. Is it—
CK: 0:48:20.5 We want answers to all that.
PL: —the—the best cheese in the house right now? Is it the cheese that I bring home the most? Those would all be—those are 4 really different cheeses. So it's a complicated question, because it's like, how do I feel? What am I going to be doing? It's not just—because I'm not the same emotional—I'm not in the same emotional state every day, and so my food is not going to be able to satisfy me in—in one single emotional state. I want it all—I want—that's what—tomorrow I'll be on the counter all day, and I'll probably taste 25, 30 different cheeses. I won't eat them—I won't eat a lot of them—but I'll have little tastes, and I'll just get that flavor in my mouth, and breathe in, and taste it, and have all that great flavor, and be like, "Oh, it's so good." And I'll want another bite, but I'll just have a little taste. Just like after lunch—I just want a little somethin' somethin'. I just want a little sweet thing. A little piece of chocolate—that's all—just a little tiny piece of chocolate the size of a quarter. That's all I want. Because I'll enjoy that—that little piece of chocolate, because I'll pay attention to it. People don't—people don't pay attention to their food. People scarf their food without tasting it. How can you do that? What—you're robbing yourself of this incredible pleasure of flavor and smells and aromas. If you don't taste it, you're just stuffing the gullet. And yeah, you've got to eat. But if you pay attention to your food, and you pay—and you eat good food—and you pay attention to it, you will get so much pleasure—and pleasure that costs you nothing at all. Nothing. It costs you no more time, right? It costs you no more money, because you're just eating it. All—all it does is bring you pleasure for zero. Where else is that legal? Right? And all—all it is—will take a mindset—it's simply a mind shift to pay attention to what you're putting into your body—which, shouldn't you be doing anyway? Shouldn't you—shouldn't you want to know what you're—what's going into your body? This is the only one we have, as far as we know. Right? Shouldn't you pay attention to that? And why not—if you're going to pay attention to it, it's going to bring you pleasure that's not going to do—at zero cost. It's like the only thing that's really free. The pleasure—the price is included, but you're not taking it if you're not paying attention to it. (whispers) How crazy is that?
CK: But it's not free to buy a $20-something pound piece of cheese.
PL: No, but to eat that piece of cheese—to pay attention to how it tastes—is free. I'm just talking about the pay attention piece.
CK: But I just—
PL: But it could be—it could be a hot dog with French's yellow mustard. That's fine. All I want—all I want you to do is enjoy, and pay attention to the flavor of, that friendly frank with French's yellow mustard on it—which is great. I mean—
CK: —I love—
PL: 0:51:54.1 —but people just—people just scarf it, "Mmm." And they have no idea what their food tastes like. How nuts.
CK: —but it would be interesting—I mean, this is fabulous—but just to hear you talk a little bit about working in—is it fair to call it a high-end shop that's going to attract people who are willing to spend more—considerably more than you're spending in the supermarket for a block of cheese—a certain clientele, and it's high-end, great stuff, right?
PL: Yeah—yeah, it is. And it's—and it's more expensive than—you know, my cheddar is going to be more expensive than the—the least expensive cheddar you're going to find in the supermarket—but it's going to taste a lot better, too, and it's going to bring you more satisfaction per ounce, I would bet. And you know that—if you get a piece of brie—you buy a piece of brie from me—it's going to be the correct maturity. It's not going to be overripe, it's not going to be under-ripe—it's going to be the way you want—and if that one's too mature for you, I've got a slightly younger one—a slightly milder one. And you can fine tune what you're looking for—versus going into a supermarket, where you're not—you're not interacting with anybody, you're just like, "Okay, there's a bunch of cheese in front of me, what do I want?" And you're making that decision all on your own, versus coming to my store—you have to speak with somebody. You have to interact with another human being. Here's another really interesting phenomenon that I've noticed. Over here at TD Bank, they have a parking lot that's behind the building. The ATM is in the front of the building, okay? People park in the back, walk up the stairs, walk through the lobby, past the tellers, out to the ATM machine—get their money, walk back out through the lobby, go back into their cars. Now, for me—I'm a people guy. Why would I interact with a machine when I have a perfectly good teller that is perfectly capable of giving me whatever money I want out of my account? ATMs weren't around until the early '80s, right? Before that you had to go to a teller—you had to talk to somebody. Now we're eliminating the—by choice, we've been so conditioned—that we eliminate the desire to want to go talk to somebody to get our money out of the bank. I mean, some banks will charge you money to see a teller. I'd go berserk. I don't want to talk to a machine—I want to talk to a human being. I want to say, "Hi, good morning, how are you doing today? What's going on? How'd your son do last Sunday at the soccer game?" We're people. We're a community, we're civilization. Don't we want to be together? And I think that comes a lot from the fact that—because I'm in the food business, and they started out quite a while ago—or a while ago, that consume—eating together is the glue, I think, of what keeps us as—brings us together as a civilization in this culture. I'm a little biased, obviously. But it's—really, it's amazing to me how many people—because I'll be talking—because I'll be talking to the tellers, and I'll see people come in, and I'm like, "What are they doing?" "Oh, they're using the ATM." I say, "Why don't they come to you?" "Oh, people do that all the time." It's more common that people will walk through and use the ATM than use the teller. And I'm certainly in the minority—I'm a freak of humanity, I guess—but I want to talk to people instead of interact with a machine.
CK: Do you do other things to encourage community, whether it's a—at a family table, or other human-to-human interactions beyond the store? Or—that's just so compelling, the way you talk about it.
PL: No—I encourage people, and I try to set an example, but I'm not going to proselytize.
CK: 0:56:39.0 How do you set the example?
PL: Just by going to the teller, and talking to the waitresses, and getting to know peoples' names and what they like, what they do, what their wives' names or husbands' names, and what their dogs' names are—and be able to speak as—in an intimate, close way—the way you would treat your friends. You know your best friend's husband's name, and wife's name, and probably their kids, and how old they are—everybody—why shouldn't we treat everybody like that? Why do we not care? How many times—how many bosses say, "Hey, how was your weekend? Oh, good, good, good." It's like, that's—that boss doesn't care about you. The boss that says, "How'd Sally do in the play on Friday?" That's the boss that cares about you, right? That's your friend. That's somebody you have a relationship with. Whether it's your boss, or your friend, or the mailman, or the—the bank teller—we're all people.
MK: Or the cheese man.
PL: Or the cheese man—yeah. I mean—we've had—we've had customers—probably 8 to 10 in the last 6 years—that either wrote, called, or came in to tell us about a family tragedy—whether they lost their husband, their wife, their son died—they came in to tell us, because we are like their family. We have relationships with these people. And they love us the way—and we're part of their world—the concentric circles that go around us. We're in a couple of degrees for them. And we're just clerks—we're just store clerks. But they know we care.
CK: How do you teach that to an employee?
PL: You can't teach it—you can't teach it. You just—you model it, you—because you can't put your fingers on it. But there's—then there becomes a sense of culture in the store, and that's the great and the horrible thing about developing a culture. I want a culture of caring—well—how do you do—you can't do caring. But once that's set, culture sort of—becomes self-sustaining and self-nurturing. So once you get a few people, then everybody's—that becomes the norm, instead of—and people want to conform to the norm, as humans do. So that becomes the way that everybody acts and behaves, because that's how everybody acts and behaves—therefore I am everybody, and therefore I will act and behave that way. That make sense?
CK: Yes, it spreads like the cheese culture, really.
PL: I—I don't—it's—yeah. It's—(laughs)
CK: (laughs) It's like a living culture takes over and dominates.
PL: Exactly. So, that's kind of—but I don't think you can teach it. I don't think you can even verbalize it. When they see—I don't know. I don't know.
CK: I think you have verbalized it.
PL: 1:00:36.6 I'm not smart enough to figure that out—I just do what I can. And it seems to be working, I guess. I guess. I mean, I'm happy, so—(laughs) and my employees—I'm happy, and my employees stay around.
MK: One more—
PL: You know—I guess we're good. (laughing)
MK: Well, thank you.
CK: Thank you.
MK: Thank you very much for coming in today.
PL: My pleasure.
MK: This has been wonderful.
CK: What a great, spirited interview.
1:01:09.0 (end of audio)