Kendall Antonelli and her team are spreading happiness and joy through their love of artisanal cheese at Antonelli’s cheese shop.
By Abigail Rosenthal, Photos by Kate LeSeur and Arnold Wells
For seven years, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop has operated under a philosophy of do good, eat good. The shop, located in Austin’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood, makes a point to stock ethically produced products. Customers are enthusiastically greeted by the shop’s co-owner, Kendall Antonelli, and are encouraged to try as many cheeses as they like before selecting their cut-to-order purchases.
Kendall and John Antonelli had just married when the idea for Antonelli’s Cheese Shop first occurred. Neither Antonelli had any culinary experience—unless, Kendall Antonelli jokes, you count eating a lot of food as a culinary background. Kendall Antonelli had experience in nonprofit work as an advocate for human-trafficking victims, and John Antonelli was working as a certified public accountant.
“We were sitting on the beach on our honeymoon in Grenada, in the Caribbean, and John turned to me and said, ‘We just had the most amazing wedding. I have an amazing wife. We’ve got the perfect home and the perfect dogs. I just can’t stand my job,’ ” Kendall Antonelli remembers. “And I said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ and he goes, ‘I don’t know, something in cheese?’ ”
Why a cheese shop? It’s a question the Antonellis answer often.
They don’t remember the reason behind it, Kendall Antonelli says, but as her husband aptly defined it to her one day, “Nobody likes an auditor, but everybody likes cheese.”
Realizing that there wasn’t a cut-to-order cheese shop in Austin, the idea for Antonelli’s was solidified. The couple journeyed to Europe, following signs pointing to cheese and learning everything they could.
“Cheese just became a way we could make people happy,” Kendall Antonelli says. “Along the lines, we realized our purpose was to tell the story of good food and its producers.”
The Antonellis work to do just that. Kendall Antonelli grew up as a “rodeo queen,” helping her stepfather on his cattle ranch in North Texas, and was a regular witness to his labor of love behind the work. With that experience in mind, the couple wanted to make sure they gave credit to those who make the products sold in their shop.
“When we look in our shop, every one of those products is a face and a name to us,” Kendall Antonelli says. “It’s ‘Matt and Clare make that.’ It’s Quince & Apple jam, and they did it because they love cheese, but they didn’t want to make cheese; they wanted to make a whole line of jams that go with cheese. For us, when we look at each one of those products, it’s a story and it’s a relationship. Our job is to tell that story to the folks who walk into our shop.”
Antonelli’s Cheese Shop has grown outside of its original location. Antonelli’s Cheese House, where the Antonellis host classes and events, opened just two years after the original shop. A second shop location is coming to Fareground, Austin’s first food hall, this fall.
In addition to the duo’s dozens of local accolades and recognition from throughout the country, John Antonelli is now the president of the American Cheese Society.
“We’re just having fun. We’re just selling cheese every day,” Kendall Antonelli says. “But anything we can do to bring attention to our business will help all of the producers we’re trying to support and help all of our amazing team members.”
While perusing through a shop specializing in artisanal cheeses could be intimidating to some, Kendall and John Antonelli hope to bring quality cheeses to the masses through tasting classes at their Cheese House and free tastings at the cheese counter. To add to their mom-and-pop atmosphere, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop keeps personalized records of customers’ past purchases in multiple logs, allowing the cheesemongers to offer the same or new cheeses to returning customers.
“For us, cheese buying should be approachable and fun and not pretentious,” Kendall Antonelli says. “You don’t have to know what you want when you come into our shop. We’re actually made and set up for the person who doesn’t know anything and wants to learn or just wants to try something new.”
Since Antonelli’s Cheese Shop opened, Kendall and John Antonelli’s goals have evolved and grown while remaining true to the original aim of spreading joy through cheese.
“At the end of the day, we did come around to this place where we realized, ‘Wait, it isn’t about the cheese.’ It’s about happiness and joy and the people, and we get to do that through cheese,” Kendall Antonelli says. “For us, if we can reach new audiences than those traditionally in this small foodie circle that’s in Austin, that’s taking it to a whole new level where we’re exposing people to these artisanal foods and these producers in a way that we could have never dreamed.”