Cheese-shop owners hope to boost recognition for Reno
Laura Conrow and Peter Burge may have opened a small store that specializes in cheese, but their customers see the shop as a marker of civic progress.
“People are very happy that Reno has come this far,” says Conrow. “They feel better about themselves for living in a city with a cheese store.”
Now that their store, Wedge — A Cheese Shop, has gotten firmly rooted at 12 Saint Lawrence St. in the heart of Midtown, Burge and Conrow are setting their sights higher.
They want the shop to build a reputation among cheese-lovers nationally and regionally and become the sort of place that out-of-towners seek out.
Conrow, whose been working in one segment or another of the cheese world much of her adult life, started thinking about the possibilities of a cheese shop in Reno a couple of years ago.
Seeking experience in the retail cheese world, she worked at Whole Foods Market in Reno, helping customers find just the right cheese to pair with wine or beer and teaching an occasional class.
Burge, a resident of Reno for two decades whose experience ranged from advertising agencies to architectural firms, took a class from Conrow.
Fired up about cheese, he headed off to the Cheese School of San Francisco for three long days of classes that helped prepare him to open a shop.
One fact, Burge says, stuck with him: “Cheese is one of the fastest-growing segments of the specialty food business.”
While they barely knew one another before, Burge and Conrow were encouraged by others in the close-knit cheese world to seek out one another.
They joined forces, took a series of free classes offered to neophyte entrepreneurs by SCORE, found a location in Midtown and opened the doors of Wedge last July. The business today employs four part-timer along with its owners.
They serve customers who are a mix of foodie Baby Boomers — the USDA says consumers over age 65 are among the biggest buyers of cheese — as well as food-savvy younger consumers who want to know the origin of their food.
Wedge carries more than 100 varieties of cheese — up from 85 when it opened — and it’s developing local sources such as Sand Hill Farmstead Cheese made in Fallon.
Burge and Conrow have partnered with their Midtown neighbors — notably Ty Martin, the owner of Craft Wine & Beer, a bottle shop on nearby Martin Street — on marketing events such as well-attended classes on pairings of cheese and beer.
Craft and Wedge take a big step together on Saturday, when big-name San Francisco food writer Janet Fletcher, a cheese authority, visits Wedge from 5-7 p.m. to sign copies of her new book, “Cheese & Beer.”
Conrow had known Fletcher for several years — “The cheese world is pretty small,” she says — and Burge was able to piggyback Fletcher’s visit onto another stop the author already had scheduled in Reno.
Some of their goals for Fletcher’s visitors are obvious — attract people to the shop, sell some cheese.
But Burge and Conrow say they have a third agenda: They want to put their best foot forward for Fletcher, hoping she’ll carry with her the word that Reno has a grown-up cheese shop of its own.
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