Are you a “food explorer” with a passion for good food and an adventuresome palate? Does saying “cheese” make you smile even without a camera? Do you enjoy working with people and take pride in delivering top quality products and services? Join Steve Jones at Cheese Bar in Portland, Oregon, for a VocationVacations® dream job holiday and learn how your love of good food and cheese might launch you into a new career as a cheese retailer, or as Steve really likes to call himself, a cheesemonger!
Steve grew up in a small farming community in Iowa where he learned to value and appreciate the efforts of the small farmer - something that would serve him well later in life. He received a degree in fine arts, but soon found the artistic world was a challenging place to make a living. “I realized I would have to learn to cook to survive,” remembers Steve. Soon, the kitchen jobs he took out of necessity led to a new career. After moving to Portland and taking some classes at Western Culinary Institute, Steve began working in area restaurants. He then moved on to retail food management and brokerage positions and ultimately to the opening Steve’s Cheese. In 2010, Steve took his business success one step further, moved locations and expanded his cheese retail operation to include a cheese, wine and beer bar.
Steve’s appreciation of small farmers is reflected in his business today. Of the more than 250 varieties of cheese in his shop, 90% of them come from small producers. “One of the most rewarding parts of my job is the relationship I have with the farmers whose cheese I buy,” says Steve. Steve knows exactly where his cheeses come from and selects them for their uniqueness, flavor and quality. “Every cheese I sell is an exceptional example of what that type of cheese should be.” Each week Steve sells approximately 100 pounds of cheese. “My customers say ‘everything looks great,’ and I say ‘everything is great,’ there are no mediocre cheeses in my case.”
With a typical 10-12 hour work day, Steve is a busy guy. He starts his day being sure everything is sanitized and ready for a day of cutting, slicing and wrapping. Next, he makes sure his display case is perfect. “Eyes eat first,” explains Steve, “and details count.” About sixty percent of the time, a member of Steve’s part-time staff will join him each day working with customers to help them select just the right cheese. Other tasks throughout the day include the time-consuming processes of ordering and receiving products and Steve’s continual research for new products. In addition to the retail side of the operation, Steve offers cheese and wine classes, a cheese primer class, cheese-specific classes, and also caters both on-site and off-site events.
“You have to like working with people if you are going to be in this business,” says Steve. “A customer may try ten cheeses and then buy only one $3 piece. But, maybe the next time he may buy $50 worth of cheese.” This is what makes the business interesting and challenging. “It takes a lot of $3 chunks of cheese to make a living,” laughs Steve.
Steve likes to think he is making a difference by helping people slow down and enjoy the experience of selecting and savoring their food. He also hopes people learn to appreciate the art of cheese-making and the skill and hard work involved in making the wide variety of cheeses he sells. Steve visits farms all over the world to bring the best products back to his customers. So what is Steve’s favorite cheese? “One of my favorites is washed rind cheese. It’s stinky, but in a positive way,” says Steve. Steve has a great nose for cheese and for business.
While on your Cheesemonger VocationVacations® dream job holiday with Steve Jones, activities will include some or all of the following:
Available: All year based on mentor's availability
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