Seattle Cheese Shop Beecher's Comes to Flatiron
By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
FLATIRON — The construction isn't yet complete at the new Flatiron outpost of Beecher's Handmade Cheese shop, but a steady stream of eager Manhattanites poked their head into the Seattle-based store on a recent day, desperate for details in anticipation of next week's opening.
"Are you going to do the same thing as in Seattle?" one curious passerby asked as she peered around the 8,000-square-foot space on Broadway and 20th Street, slated to open June 24th.
"Yes, but quite a bit more," said Kurt Beecher Dammeier, who is bringing the popular cheese shop from Seattle's famed Pike Place Market — where it has a 3,000-square-foot space — across the country to a landmark Stanford White-designed building at Broadway and 20th Street.
Because of regulations of Seattle's Pike Place, Beecher's is only allowed to sell cheese there.
Besides an upstairs café, in a downstairs restaurant, called The Cellar, foodies will be able to munch on Beecher's mac n' cheese — featured on Oprah's "Ultimate Favorite Things" list last year — while sipping wine and watching the shop's specially created Flatiron washed rind cheese age.
The first batch of Flatiron cheese — which will be made with milk from a farm near Albany that will be transported to a gigantic vat inside the store — will be ready 60 days after opening, since that's how long it takes to age, Dammeier noted.
Beecher's plans to use the same cheese making practices it used in Seattle into the Flatiron space that was transformed into a cheese factory by adding a basement waste treatment facility to handle all of its whey waste.
It's also importing its same philosophy: only selling pure food that's free of artificial preservatives, flavor enhancers, sweeteners, colors and trans fats, say organizers, who add that the store is committed to educating consumers.
The company sets aside 1 percent of its sales for its Flagship Foundation, which has visited more than 350 schools in the Puget Sound area.
The foundation's executive director, Bill Marsh, came with Dammeier to New York to kickstart the program in city schools. On Wednesday he was working with kids at the Upper West Side's P.S. 165, and will be training educators here to start up the program next fall.
The 2 1/2 hour lessons teach children, mostly fourth and fifth graders, not to trust food marketing, how to read food labels and to understand the difference between whole and processed foods, Dammeier explained.
At the end of the lesson, the kids make a veggie chili using whole ingredients.
Dammeier is also hoping pre-schoolers will schedule field trips for cheesemaking demonstrations as they do in his Seattle store.
"The stated mission of our company is to change the way people eat," Dammeier said.
Because of its philosophy, Beecher's won't even use pre-made lemon juice, which often has preservatives, and makes its own Worchester sauce.
"We have an interesting corporate culture," Dammeier said. "I really want to keep that culture, so I needed people I already knew and trusted. They already knew the short hand."
Although the company is hiring roughly 60 cheesemongers and café workers, Dammeier is relocating four of his staffers from Seattle to ensure the company's vision is replicated in New York. He and three others will be based here for two months to help with the opening.
"It's a pretty unique company that we work for,” said Mejken Poore, one of the managers from Seattle who moved to the East coast for the store's new location.
"It certainly is a calling card, but it is not the easiest thing to do in a business to remain true to the fundamentals of pure food and teach people about it," she said. "It's not the easiest to source completely clean and pure products and educate people about an old world process."