Randall Felts is serious about cheese. An Alabama native who’s worked as a cheesemonger for more than 15 years, Felts talks with a lot of fellow mongers and enthusiasts, and there’s one question from customers that they all encounter more than any other: How do I eat that cheese? The query has stuck with Felts and ultimately inspired his new venture, Beautiful Rind.
The multi-purpose combination of restaurant, cheese shop, and classroom is slated to open early next year at 2211 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Felts is shooting for late January or early February, if permits and inspections go well.
Beautiful Rind’s menu is still in development but Felts plans to feature — of course — cheese. He plans to use his pastry background to design specific accompaniments that are culturally and historically appropriate or simply pair well with a given fromage. The restaurant will draw on the format of a sushi bar, offering diners a chance to build their own experience piece by piece. Cheese plates with charcuterie will naturally be available, as well as cheesy dishes such as macaroni and cheese and French onion soup, along with a few promised surprises.
Where there’s cheese there’s often wine, and Beautiful Rind takes the same approach to drinks as it does the food menu — it’s all about the cheese. Patrons can purchase wine by the glass, bottle, or “paring size,” which is a little less than half a glass, all selected for their cheese-complimenting properties. The same is true of the beer list, both draft and packaged. Felts is also designing a cocktail list with a focus on wine-based drinks and lower-alcohol offerings such as spritzers because a higher ABV can interfere with the palate.
The space’s centerpiece is a spacious glass cheese case with mongers at the ready to provide tastes, advice, and cheeses to go. The dining room will seat about 40 at small tables and will contain a “cheese bar” (another sushi convention) where 10 diners can watch staff assemble cheese plates and ask for recommendations. A private classroom space where Felts hopes to hold cheese classes, community, and private events can hold 12 to 15.
Felts, who previously worked as operations manager with wine and cheese purveyor Pastoral, said that he hopes to create an “accessible” environment, one where customers can ask questions and feel confident in their selections. The decline of the cheese shop is a hot topic at American Cheese Society conferences (where Felts is a member), and that even the old-timey retail spots are struggling. “Those that are successful are somewhere people go for an experience,” he said. “Things are changing and people want a better connection to their food.”
Beautiful Rind is slated to open in early 2020, so stay tuned for updates as the project progresses.