AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Feb. 11, 2020, John and Kendall Antonelli commemorated the 10-year anniversary of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, an artisanal cheese, cured meats and fine wine store, tucked away in Hyde Park. A month later, the shop closed its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Antonellis were unsure just how long the closure would last — but after Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced the cancelation of South by Southwest Conference & Festivals March 6, 2020, Kendall said she knew the sheer impact of this pandemic could extend far longer than just a few weeks.
After 455 days, the shop reopened to the public for the first time Thursday, with its supplementary cheese house also up and running with public tastings and private events.
“It’s almost like opening our doors for the first time,” Kendall said. “We’re a little more weathered, hopefully a little wiser, yet just as excited as we were that very first time.”
As Antonelli’s commemorates its grand reopening Thursday, the milestone comes on the back of a rare feat. While some businesses throughout the Austin metro were for forced to shutter their doors or layoff staff, Antonelli’s made it through without laying off a single employee — with the help of a few friends, Kendall added.
“After a failed spinoff concept in downtown opened and closed in 2018, resulting in layoffs, we vowed we’d do everything possible to hustle and keep our team intact,” she said. “That was the hardest thing we’d ever done – looking someone in the eye and telling them we’d failed them.”
The Antonellis work with approximately 150 restaurants and food producers throughout Central Texas to sell their products, with local favorites including Easy Tiger, Bufalina, William Chris Winery and Farmhouse Delivery. But when the magnitude of the pandemic rippled through, and crippled, many restaurants financially, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop expanded its reach to partner with specialty grocers and provide weekly deliveries to businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio areas.
Central Market, Whole Foods and Eataly each began selling Antonelli’s cheeses in an effort to support local food producers. Antonelli’s also launched virtual cheese tasting events for customers to enjoy from the comfort of their homes, with more than 15,000 people partaking in the livestreams.
Paired with some curbside pickup services for customers, Antonelli’s stayed afloat and hired more than 10 employees.
As for the timing of their reopening, Kendall said it was important to them that all employees felt safe and comfortable with the reopening timeline. For those workers who chose to get vaccinated, Kendall added she and John wanted to give them ample time to be fully covered before any reopening dates were proposed.
“We also wanted to wait and see what was happening health-wise, and then see how the public was reacting to events out there. Now we can see like, ‘oh my gosh, we almost missed the boat,'” she said. “People are raring and ready to get out and safely see friends and family and hug people again. And so we’re excited to be able to do that with our customers and see their faces across the case.”
The prospect of launching a gourmet cheese shop came on the Antonellis’ honeymoon, as John and Kendall each searched for the one passion project to bring joy and fulfillment to their lives. Eleven years and a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears and cheese tastings later, that dream — “our baby,” as Kendall referred to it– is now their everyday reality.
“For people who are in the hospitality industry, it’s all about serving customers and with being with people, and we’ve always said it’s the proverbial breaking of bread but we just do it over cheese,” she said, adding, “But are we so grateful to appreciate people face to face? Again, that’s what it’s all about, and that is what our team is excited and hungry for.”