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Meet Gina Freize of Venissimo Cheese

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gina Freize.

Gina, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I always wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t know what it would be. My mom is from Austria, and after visiting there many times, I fell in love with all the specialty food shops. Cheese was always one of my favorite foods. If there was a choice of cheese or ice cream, the cheese would be mine.

One day the proverbial light bulb went off: I love cheese and why aren’t there many cheese shops in America? That was 15 years ago when I decided that my business would be working with the food that I absolutely love. Hence Venissimo was born. My dream is to make the Camembert as famous as the Cappuccino!

But our first shop almost never opened. I found a space in the Mission Hills neighborhood that my gut told me was perfect. The owner of the retail space was not interested in splitting the large space, nor leasing to an unknown business in an unknown industry. Who wants to buy just cheese?

After spending months calling and faxing them reasons to let Venissimo in, I overheard that the owner would be at the site on a certain day. So I snuck in with a cheese plate to let the product speak for itself. Needless to say, the owner was convinced and agreed to lease the space the very next day.

We opened our Mission Hills neighborhood shop on January 17, 2004, with just 50 cheeses on our shelves. Roughly three years later, we opened our second location in Del Mar. Our third shop downtown – complete with an Academy of Cheese (AoC) educational program – opened in 2009.

In 2014, we opened a satellite location in North Park inside Bottlecraft Beer Shop. And in 2016, we joined the group of artisans in the vibrant Liberty Public Market in Liberty Station. To date, we’ve had more than 2000 cheeses on our shelves and continue to share the joy of cheese through our four San Diego area neighborhood shops.

When you visit the shop, you can taste anything you like. Friendly and expert cheesemongers plus descriptive receipts (complete with pronunciations, country of origin, milk type & more) aim to take the intimidation out of artisanal cheese shopping.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The initial struggle was deciding to quit a high-income corporate job to embark on this crazy dream. I have never looked back. The pride of ownership and freedom to create a lifestyle around my own business is worth so much more than a paycheck.

Having faith in my business plan and selling the concept to landlords was an initial struggle. Hope carried me through.

We’ve had two shop locations in downtown San Diego that just didn’t pan out financially from the number one retail dilemma: high rent with low traffic. We have since closed our downtown shops and focused elsewhere, building our Academy of Cheese and entertainment efforts (podcast, YouTube channel, tours, etc).

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Venissimo Cheese – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Venissimo shares all the best cheese from all over the world. We are a specialty cheese shop that is known for generous sampling and taking the intimidation out of artisanal cheese shopping.

Our receipts have always set us apart from any other cheese shop in the country. We note the name of the cheese, its pronunciation, country of origin, milk type, brief description, plus wine and beer pairing suggestions. We recently launched a free app so cheese lovers can keep track of the names of their favorites.

I’m most proud of the relationships we’ve built with neighbors, cheese lovers and other food businesses in San Diego. We have become synonymous with the word “cheese.” I’m also thrilled with the growth of our Academy of Cheese division that hosts classes, events and cheese tours. Our party trays are things of beauty and deliciousness. We’re keeping it real and fun!

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our dream has always been to make Camembert as well-known as Cappuccino! Last year we introduced a podcast called Noon on Tuesday where we talk all about cheese all the time. It’s for both cheese enthusiasts and experts alike.

This year we are expanding our YouTube channel to demonstrate the beauty and versatility of cheese. A cheese cookbook is also in the works.

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