Cheese Shop brings fine cheese choices
When LISA STETTER and her husband ERIC decided to move from New Jersey to North Carolina, they were looking for life at a slower pace.
“We weren’t ready to retire, but actually didn’t want to own a business anymore,” she says.
Eric Stetter owned an auto repair shop for twenty-five years and Lisa Stetter drove a bus for seventeen years. A surprise to both of them, it’s been five and one-half years since Lisa Stetter opened Southport Cheese Shoppe specializing in fine cheeses, fresh-baked breads, olive oils, deli products, sandwiches and paninis, and an amazing selection of gift items.
Lisa and Eric Stetter came to Southport for the first time in 2007 and made the permanent move in 2013.
“We couldn’t wait to get back,” says Lisa about their first visit. But opening a cheese shop was not in the plan. Nor was it even her idea.
“To be honest, the suggestion came from my neighbors. Our idea of not owning a business was not working. We were about to pull the trigger to buy a bed and breakfast when I was approached by a couple of neighbors about jointly opening a cheese shop,” she says. “After a year of discussing the idea, they decided it wasn’t for them. But I went ahead with it. And I’m so glad I did!”
Southport Cheese Shop has become a unique specialty food destination.
“We found our niche. Because Southport is a small town, I don’t think it would be as successful if there was another cheese shop here,” Lisa Stetter says.
There are six people who work in the shop, three or four at one time, except during the holiday season, when it’s all hands on deck. Customer service is key. “Our front register employee makes sure all of our customers are met with a cheerful greeting and leave with a smile. We love seeing our customers excited about their purchase.”
Lisa and Eric Stetter never had a discussion about the division of responsibilities at the shop. “We just knew,” Lisa Stetter says. “Eric is the one who makes the most awesome sandwiches in town along with taking care of the maintenance of equipment and the building. I take care of the billing, ordering, event planning and helping customers with their cheese choices, and creating custom cheese boards.”
She says she learned all she knows about cheese on the job. “When something new comes in, I read about it. And taste it. There are thousands of cheeses, so my education is ongoing.”
Lisa adds, “You eat with your eyes first! And food makes people happy!” The shop is a testament – display cases filled with seventy-five different imported and domestic cheeses including cheeses made in North Carolina. “What makes us really unique is that we offer you a taste. And you purchase the amount you need.”
The shop imports authentic New York bagels and artisan bread from New Jersey that arrive at the shop par-baked which she finishes in her oven. The bread can also be purchased frozen to bake at home. The charcuterie is mostly from North Carolina.
“This is important to a lot of people. So many want to buy local these days. The shop has whatever you need whether you’re entertaining one or two or a crowd,” Lisa says. “Cornichons and pate, nuts, jams, and olive oils. Balsamic glazes, pasta, sauces, and sweets. I’ll help you pick products to build your own cheese board or we can do it for you.”
Lisa Stetter is looking forward to the future as it’s been difficult during the pandemic to get certain products due to vendor manufacturing shortages and labor shortage. “I’m so thankful for my employees,” she says. “Next year I’d like to restart our tastings, both in the shop and offsite. It’s a great way to enjoy time with friends without having to slave over a gourmet meal.”
She reflects on her journey which she describes as a huge learning process combined with a lot of hard work. Looking back, she says, “It can be very scary when you think of the investment, but you can’t succeed if you don’t try.” Advising anyone who is thinking about starting a business she enthusiastically says, “Go for it! I was in my 50’s before I did. It’s been exhausting. And still is. But it’s also been so very rewarding.”
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