From Dutch Gouda to Red Leicester, Cheese Boutique offers a world of cheesy delights.
A family run operation led by Fatos Pristine and his four sons Agim, Ilir, Afrim, and Arian – and their grandfather before them – Toronto-based Cheese Boutique has been in business for more than 40 years and has carved a storytelling niche into the food industry along the way.
“My father is a war kid who moved from country to country, who picked up on the culture and food,” co-owner Afrim Pristine told The Canadian Business Journal. “He brought that learning to the store, offering the best foods of Italy, Belgium, Turkey, and more.”
Starting in 1970 as a 500 square feet retailer of milk and cigarettes, the company grew over the years into a 1,000 square foot retail location, a place it called home until 2000. Looking for a new location, Cheese Boutique decided to double its local warehouse into a “two-in-one”, offering both warehousing and retail.
Interestingly enough, 12 years later, Cheese Boutique is again growing too big to fit under one roof.
“Originally, it wasn’t an easy decision to move, but we’re still part of the community because of the hard work we have put in in the past,” Pristine explained.
“We are a destination; you don’t just happen to stumble upon on.”
Diverse Product Lineup
Business has broadened in recent years to now include a wholesale side of the business, as has Cheese Boutique’s catering service to Toronto restaurants and hotels. Its product offering has grown as well, and now includes the likes of fresh meats, produce, pastries, and a variety of prepared foods. Cheese Boutique has emerged as a specialty grocery store for the Toronto market. Yet, no matter how much the company has grown and changed, its delectable cheese assortments remain the backbone of business.
“With a lot of our products, these are all new aspects to us,” Pristine commented. “With our cheese, it’s about the time and care we put into them. Anybody can sell cheese but it’s about the time we take to age and mature the cheese. It’s just like wine; cheese needs attention.”
Pristine, who is quick to note that the business model of Cheese Boutique “works on impulse”, believes that the company’s focus on food and a quality product, rather than business and the bottom line, is the reason why Cheese Boutique has been as successful as it has been. It’s also served for a fun ride along the way.
“For us, it is about a love of what we do. We have the luxury that sometimes we can do something because that is how it’s meant to be done, without looking at the bottom line,” Pristine said. “It’s more of a celebration. We take care of it and have fun with it. What our grandfather and father built for us, we get to get to keep that tradition and have fun, because that’s our goal and our passion.”
So what’s different about Cheese Boutique cheese? For one, you won’t find any product on its shelf that is less than three years old. It all takes place in its Cheese Vault – cheese curing, processing, and aging. Pristine commented, “There is a big process to it and it’s something we take pride in. We do it more for the love of food than any other reason. A cheese maker will only hold on to a cheese for so long, whereas we have the luxury to wait on it. We can age cheese for 10 to 15 years, and at the end of the day how do you put a value on that?
“In our opinion, even regular traditional French double cream brie arrives and it needs more aging to get that nice, creamy consistency. You will find some great brie out on the market, but sometimes you will find that it is chalky in the centre. It doesn’t mean the cheese is no good, it just means that the cheese is young. If it had that extra time, it’d be just as good, but it’s about the care. We want to have something when it is at its best, and we take that care into everything we do.”
This same level of care is evident with its meat products too. Beef is cut only once it has been aged and hung dry on the bone for 40 days. Such an appreciation toward its products is not lost on the customer either.
“Our customers understand food and appreciate what they’re getting,” Pristine concluded. “Like my father says, ‘It’s easy to buy a $100 bottle of wine, but if you can’t tell the difference between that and a $20 bottle, you might as well buy the $20 bottle. But if you’re going to enjoy something, it’s a different story, and that’s what we do.”