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Exquisite Taste and Hospitality: Touring Norbert Wabnig’s Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Aug 30, 2010 by Sarah Roullard

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills is located in the heart of the legendary, fast-paced city of, you guessed it, Beverly Hills. The store itself is intimate and calm. The walls, shelves, and counter-tops are filled with a great assortment of gourmet items. Some are new, some are aged, and a few extraordinary rare treats can be found mixed therein, resembling the collection of a carefully stocked library.

The gourmet selection’s premier quality attracts passersby, food connoisseurs, and famous faces alike. The Cheese Store is admittedly a celebrity favorite, frequented by Hollywood’s most famed members. However, the store employees offer their hospitality without favoritism. Despite the Cheese Store’s superstar following, every customer is esteemed and warmly attended.

One Cheese Store employee explained: “Everyday something new and unexpected happens, yet there is still consistency. You still serve the best food products to some amazing and always intriguing clientele, while being surrounded by exceptional coworkers who treat you like family.”

-Elizabeth, Cheese Store employee

The Cheese Store stocks the finest food and drink selections from around the globe. The store’s cheese trays are visually seductive and deliciously divine. Each item is custom selected to complement one another yet also assert its own distinctive, delicious flavor.

Raffi, the store’s caviar expert, offered a caviar tasting session while I visited. Each tin contains roe from a different type of sturgeon. We sampled Sevruga, Ossetra, and Golden Imperial caviar. The sturgeon roe appears vaguely dissimilar in color but the distinction in taste is completely astounding. My favorite was the rare and pricey Golden Imperial caviar which is coveted for its buttery, smooth flavor.

Raffi explained that the fish that produced this delicacy have ancestors from the Caspian Sea, located at the juncture between Iran and Russia. The caviar tutorial was delightful and fascinating. Thank you, Raffi!

I was very fortunate to hold an in-store interview with Cheese Store of Beverly Hills owner, Norbert Wabnig, whose passion for fine foods and warm, welcoming nature have brought his store great success. We chatted in the gorgeous, rustic back room which clients often rent for parties catered by the Cheese Store.

It is an honor to have this opportunity to interview you! How long have you been in business?

Norbert Wabnig: I started working here in 1975 and bought the store in 1978 so I’ve been in business for about 32 years. I’ve worked here longer.

How did you first become interested in owning the Cheese Store?

NW: It came about sort of indirectly. I was born in Vienna, grew up in New Orleans, wanted to become a musician and if you’re a musician, you have to come to California to become a star… (My friend) and I planned on becoming the new Lennon and McCartney, which worked out real well. That’s why I have a cheese store instead.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting your store started and moving?

NW: When I bought it, the store was in debt. So I had to overcome that debt. It was much easier than I had thought it would be. It was a lot of fun and it’s been a lot of fun for all those years – a lot of laughs, a few giggles, a couple tears.

Why did you select Beverly Hills as the location for the Cheese Store?

NW: It was here before. A quick story: I was broke, I mean the musical career was not going well. They stole my car. I was living on a couch in Santa Monica… I needed to work, I needed money. So there was something called the Job Factory, which was this little pamphlet that would come out every week with jobs. I saw this ad for the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills and I thought, ‘wow, Beverly Hills! All over the country everybody talks about Beverly Hills. So here’s an opportunity.’ I got dressed, and I had real long hair at the time in a pony tail but I had a resume with college and my work experience as a social worker. I crossed the street to the Cheese Store and I was almost run-over by James Caan, the actor, in his Porsche and I thought, “I’ve got to be here, this is too great.” So I got a job for $1.80 an hour and worked here for 2 and a half years before I bought it.

I bet you get a lot of celebrity clients, being in Beverly Hills! Do you have any interesting run-ins?

NW: Yes we do. Joe Walsh, from the Eagles, and his wife came in today. I’ve met a lot of the people that were idols to me growing up – Sir Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton, real icons in American Cinematography. I met George Harrison, Ringo Starr, just a lot of incredible people. It’s always been interesting, that’s the one thing about the Cheese Store – there are never dull moments.

What have you most enjoyed about the experience of owning and operating your store?

NW: Well because I didn’t have any background in business at all, it’s always been an adventure, and I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most. You do get to meet interesting people, you’re put into incredible situations where most of the country would just dream about being – talking to Joe Walsh, George Harrison, Kelly Lebrock, James Spader, and Ozzy Osbourne… and being among some of the best food in the entire world. We drink great wines, we eat wonderful cheeses, we have caviar, we have the best meats, the charcuterie, the condiments. All the best from all over the world we try to keep here and at the same time be totally unpretentious about it. It’s in the context of a very casual atmosphere. We have two pianos here. We have a back room where we chit-chat.

What are your personal top 3 cheeses sold at the store?

NW: A very simple cheese, like Manchego, fresh goat cheeses, and a good piece of Roquefort… You know, a nice piece of Jarlsberg never hurts either.

What other accompaniment products would you recommend as your favorites?

NW: I like the jamón ibérico, which is the ham from Spain, the butter from Normandy, and fresh BreadBar baguettes… when they’re good, they’re the best.

What are your expansion plans for the store?

NW: Let’s just say I have expansion plans… might jinx it.

Is there anything else I didn’t cover that you would like to share?

NW: It’s hard to convey what the store is about; it’s not just about cheese. It’s about a lifestyle. It’s about enjoying good food. It’s not a science. I would never reduce good eating and fun to a science, and that’s what the store is. Don’t come in here if you want to bring a notebook and learn the molecular composition of cheese. That’s not what it’s about.

Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure. I’ve learned a lot.

NW: Really?

Yeah! I need to love food a little bit more.

NW: That’s it.

Sarah is the author of brokeintheOC.

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Beverly Hills, Food, Just for fun, SoCal

2 Responses to “Exquisite Taste and Hospitality: Touring Norbert Wabnig’s Cheese Store of Beverly Hills”

  1. Anna says:

    Wow! This sounds like a wonderful store to visit. Thank you for telling us about it. Hey – good pictures also.

    [Reply]

  2. Pete says:

    Yum, I have been there, too! My favorites are the canned meats, such as duck in various forms (whole, just the legs, or pate), fillets of Portuguese trout in olive oil, pickled mussels, and squids stuffed with tomatoes and onions.

    [Reply]

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