Hooked On Cheese: Selling Cheese at Brooklyn's Park Slope Food Coop
Park Slope Food Coop is one of the oldest and largest member-owned-and-operated food cooperatives in the United States. Founded in 1973, PSFC is focused on social responsibility instead of big profits; all products are marked up only 21% over the wholesale price, instead of the 25-100% markup of a normal retail store. The Coop now has 17,000 members, each of whom works a 2-hour-and-45-minute shift once a month in order to have buying privileges. Members do everything from check-out and stocking shelves to childcare and working at local soup kitchens.
This week, Raymond Hook interviews PSFC’s cheese buyers Yuri Weber and Britt Henriksson about what it takes to run the cheese department at such a massive retailer, as well as the challenges of running a non-corporate store.
Raymond Hook: How many different cheeses do you carry on average?
Yuri Weber & Britt Henriksson: We carry about 100 cheeses, half of which rotate in and out every week or so.
How much cheese do you sell in an average week?
About 3,500 pounds of cheese.
What are the challenges in managing your operations?
Yuri: I'd say the main difficulties come from the constantly changing member work-slots that cut and wrap cheese from 6am until 11pm every day. Some member teams are amazing, self-sufficient and do great work – others do poorer work. Keeping this in mind as we order and organize cheese is a constant struggle.
Britt: I agree with Yuri, but in addition, sometimes the demand made upon us as coordinators from the members can be quite taxing. We are forever explaining the systems and why the rules have been put in place.
Can I get a brief work history from each of you?
YW: I’ve worked at PSFC for 17 years, 11 as the cheese buyer. Previously, I worked in many different fields, including massage therapy, film marketing, barista and landscaping.
BH: I’ve worked at PSFC for 8 years, 7 of them with Yuri. I am a manager by nature; it’s always what I end up doing, whether it’s at a museum or a factory (and those are two places I have worked).
What are the Coop’s most popular cheeses?
The most popular by weight is New York State cheddar – we sell 800 pounds a week of white and orange cheddar combined. Parmigiano-Reggiano is not far behind – we sell 3-4 wheels each week.
What are some of your personal favorite cheeses?
YW: I'm a big fan of cheddar – Monty's, Flory's Truckle and Deer Creek Vat 17 being some of my faves.
BH: Comté is my absolute favorite. I also love Timanoix from Rodolphe Le Meunier, which we only get around the holidays.
On an average, how many member shoppers do you serve in a day?
It’s hard so say exactly how many - we don't have a [cheese] counter - everything is pre-wrapped in a grab-and-go case. The check-out records show approximately 18,000 transactions per week.