For Meredith Salvian, owner and operator of The Perth Cheese Shop, it’s all about the customer experience: even if she has to close her shop doors to make that experience better.
“My shop is what I call a Disney World cheese experience. People come in and go, ‘Oh my God,’ and have the most wonderful experience and, to me, that's what it’s all about,” says Salvian.
But when the pandemic hit in March 2020, Salvian put her customers’ safety first and closed her shop, even though, as a food store, she could have stayed open.
“We closed on March 13 (because) we didn’t want our customers to feel uncomfortable,” Salvian recounts. “We didn’t open to the public again until Easter weekend and were only open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, for pick-up only or delivery.”
While the shop’s wares were already partially online, one of Salvian’s employees took it upon herself to put all the stock online.
During the first summer of the pandemic, with concerns about hygiene in mind, Salvian and her staff came up with picnic-size charcuterie boxes.
“Then, if people were meeting for a picnic, they could get two boxes and each couple could have their own boxes so they’re not sharing and cross-contaminating,” explains Kensley Schonauer, who’s in her third year as a shop assistant.
As COVID restrictions eased further, in-store cheese samples came back, but with every hygiene precaution in place.
“Meredith manages to make everyone feel at ease. She creates a positive atmosphere and adapts easily to difficult circumstances,” says Roz Labow, one of the shop’s regular customers.
Originally hailing from Georgetown, west of Toronto, Salvian and her husband, Mark, moved to Perth in 2016 because they wanted to give their daughter a better high school experience. Salvian’s background was in dentistry but she started a cheese shop because she and her husband love cheese.
The store opened in late 2018 and by March 2020 had built up a following that carried it through the pandemic and will see it take over a larger retail space at 100 Gore St. by the end of this year.
The new space will almost double the current retail footprint, taking the shop from 1,200 square feet to 2,100 square feet on the main floor. Salvian says they’ll be able to install two cheese display cases and alleviate the congestion that builds up on busy days around the one case they have now.
“Everyone seems to love that we have lots of local cheeses, lots of local ingredients like honey, chutneys and mustards and all our cheese boards are local,” she says. “That was a big part for us. But we also carry cheeses from around the world, including some British favourites.”
“Meredith has a real knack for picking the right people to work for her and inspiring them. Every one of her employees has been with her from the start and is as knowledgeable and passionate as she is,” says Cindy James, executive director of Perth’s Small Business Advisory Centre.
“We just love what we do here. I’m obsessed with our cheese shop. I love it here, I love our team,” says Salvian.