Deciding whether or not to open a long-planned food business in the midst of a global pandemic was a choice that cheesemonger Randall Felts grappled with in March during the early days of Illinois’s stay-at-home order. Ultimately, Felts has decided to launch his cheese shop, Beautiful Rind, on Tuesday at 2211 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Felts, an Alabama native who formerly worked as operations manager at now-shuttered wine-and-cheese shop Pastoral, hopes his business can help spread a little “cheese joy,” through online education and sales.
“One of our big impetuses for going ahead and opening is to bring some joy to people stuck at home,” Felts says.
Beautiful Rind starts online sales Tuesday, offering pickup and delivery menus that feature build-your-own cheese and charcuterie boards, several pre-set board options, dishes like mac and cheese and raclette to be reheated at home, and a few cheese-centric sandwiches. Felts has a liquor license so beer and wine will also soon be available for online purchase.
Felts will hold a series of online classes and virtual hangouts. Some events are free to provide a laid-back opportunity for social interaction, such as a casual cheese happy hour. A class planned for April 29, “Perfecting the Plate,” includes a basket of “cheese essentials” and thus require payment.
Though he knew an online presence would be important for Beautiful Rind in the long run, prior to the outbreak, Felts saw virtual events and digital sales as endeavors better suited for the shop’s second or third year. The state’s stay-at-home order has closed dine-in restaurants and bars at least through the end of April. Given the current conditions, he’s glad his team laid groundwork for online retail and classes. Felts’s strategy includes an upcoming YouTube channel, plus Instagram and Facebook Live posts on the shop’s daily offerings.
“A cheese counter is such a conversation, but one of the things this crisis has taught us is that conversation can occur in many ways,” he says. “Rather than talking to people at the counter, I’m answering questions from the chatbot on our website.”
When Pastoral closed in November, Chicago lost one of its most prominent specialty cheese stores. Bigger grocery chains have their own cheese sections, but lack the customer service and selection that cheesemongers like Felts provide. Beautiful Rind fills this void. When dine-in operations restart in Chicago, beer drinkers at the neighboring Navigator Taproom will have a nearby food option.
It’s not exactly what Felts had in mind when he first decided to open Beautiful Rind, but he said a career in the hospitality industry has taught him flexibility. In the end, he’s happy to give Chicagoans a little enjoyment during a challenging time.
“I have sisters-in-law that are ICU nurses doing the hard work, so what I can do is give people a smile,” Felts says. “If I can’t cure [COVID-19], at least I can make dealing with it a little easier for people.”
Beautiful Rind, 2211 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Open for online orders 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday; Open for in-store sales and curbside pickup 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday.