Love Thy Customer
June 29, 2006

No, I'm not on Prozac, I'm serious. I really love my customers. Certain customers, that is. The public-at-large hasn't suddenly undergone a personality change that removes their impatience, rudeness, and general slack-jawedness, but there are beloved customers who drift into my cheese life that I simply adore.

1. The Ecstatics: These are the people that are thrilled with nearly everything you feed them. They love cheese, they love information, and they love me for providing them with both. They walk away happy, full, and with bits of cheddar hanging to their chins.

2. The Challengers: They come to me with terribly delicious conundrums. What cheeses to pair with Mint Juleps or Laphroaig, or which cheeses would melt wonderfully well on a grilled sandwich? That second one seems like a gimme until you consider that the sandwich will also contain...PICKLED CUCUMBERS! I love these cheesy challenges because I don't often get them. It's more like, what cheese is good in a salad, or pasta, or fondue, or for appetizers? There's nothing wrong with those questions, of course, but I get into a rut with them and don't exercise my little cheese cells nearly enough. I hear myself using the same words, the same cheeses, even using the same tone of voice, if you can believe that. The Challengers are my bread, butter, and brown crab. (You need to read the zucchini tart issue of Saveur to understand how delicious a sentiment that is. Also, going to Cornwall could help you. I know it would help me.)

3. The Minnesotans: I'm not saying I can always pick them out of a cheese crowd, but since I generally carry on a conversation with my customers when I'm wrapping or ringing, I learn a lot about them. I learn if they're locals or tourists, on business or pleasure, San Francisco first-timers or Bay Area old-timers. As soon as I hear the magic Minnesota word, we immediately swap stories of locations, lakes, and Lucia's. After mentioning my longing for the cold and fluffy stuff, I even had one customer show me pictures of snow! beautiful snow! settled outside her St. Paul house. Another couple had just moved to the Uptown area, and I gave them a huge list of restaurants they had to frequent on pain of unfulfilled stomach cavity.

4. The Name Dropppers: Not that they come in scattering surnames like chicken feed, no, these are the people who actually ask me to drop my name. That's really the mark of doing well with a customer, they go out of their way to secure my name and then thank me personally on their way out of the store.

5. The Shy: Cheese is scary. The shop is scary. Sometimes the cheesemongers are scary (I mean, all those weird Cheesemas Carols? What's that about?). Customers understandably feel timourous and trepidacious (is that a word? Fine, then I (tm) it.) when they approach the Barge o' Cheese, slick with sweat (cheese sweat, not ours! God.), and stank with stench. They look around, eyes as round as...well, cheese rounds, and clutch timidly at their big yellow numbers. (The shy ones know to take a number, they just aren't always bold enough to speak up when they're called, the poor dears.) They don't know much about cheese but they're quietly willing to learn, especially when I tell them graphic stories about how classic, real, British cheddar is made or what turns cheese orange. They love it, they buy it, and they smile when they leave the store.

6. The Friends: When friends come in and allow me to fete them with fromage and show off my cheesy skills and knowledge, I end up trilling like a meth-mad Mary Poppins for the rest of the day. Even if they're just in to pick up something quick on a Saturday, and I can't personally wait them because customers are already ten deep and psychotically waving sheaves of basil or lavender at me, the blown kisses reach my heart and sunny-up my mood.

Cheese Geek Joke of the Week: I went up to Big Cheese, who was already having a stressful day, and said, "So, I've got an idea for some power marketing. We send boxes of cheese to celebrities -- Lohan, Cruise, and whatnot -- to promote our image and raise our identity." Big Cheese looks at me, half-expectant, half-probably-figuring-out-how-to-let-my-horrific-idea-down-easy. I take a deep breath and say, "We'll call it 'Ouray for Hollywood.'" RIMSHOT! Big Cheese stares at me, then looks down, shaking her head and says, "Steph, that's why I love you." Thank you! I'll be here all week -- try the brie!

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