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Stretched too thin? Capitol Hill cheese bar Culture Club to close

LaVigne as Culture Club debuted last November (Image: CHS)

LaVigne as Culture Club debuted last November (Image: CHS)

It turns out Capitol Hill could not support a cheese bar. And it has lost its cheese monger — for now, at least.

“Putting every ounce of yourself into something and then having to admit failure is the hardest thing on earth,” Sheri LaVigne said as she announced the immediate closure of her less than a year old Culture Club cheese bar on 12th Ave.

UPDATE 5/11/2016 3:30 PM: CHS caught up with LaVigne Wednesday — she said she decided to take a break from her phone Tuesday with the closure news adding to what has been a stressful week.

“You have to really know how to promote what you’re doing,” LaVigne said, summing up what she feels like lead to her decision to shut down her businesses. “I think I was resting a lot on the reputation of Calf and Kid.”

Resting isn’t exactly the right word. LaVigne’s hard work wasn’t matched by some of the promotional machinery being deployed in an increasingly mature Capitol Hill entertainment economy. LaVigne said she doesn’t see Culture Club’s closure as a sign of trouble for restaurants and bars around the Hill.

“It’s the opposite. It’s just an explosion. We are so beyond the saturation point,” she said. But in the new environment, it can be easy for something new to get lost in the shuffle. And if costs aren’t kept in check, things can change quickly.

LaVigne said that while the 12th Ave space’s location outside of the main flow of Pike/Pine contributed to Culture Club’s quick demise, she’s pretty sure another business like a wine bar or cafe could move in and make it work.

“Honestly, it could almost be turnkey,” she said. “I even considered completely changing to do that kind of thing. That’s not why I did this.”

Instead, LaVigne can now take a few months to enjoy the summer — and, maybe, power back up to find a new way to put her cheese expertise to work.

“I don’t think I’m completely done doing cheese but I don’t know what the next thing is going to look like,” she said. “If somebody else wants to take a stab at it, I hope they call me.”

Meanwhile, LaVigne sill has more than a 100 pounds of cheese to sell — you can stop by 1806 12th Ave from noon to 6 PM on Saturday and Sunday for a “cheese fire sale.” Culture Club’s remaining beer and wine will also be available to quench the flames. Don’t feel too guilty about picking over the leavings. One, you’ll put good cheese to a good end. Two, LaVigne could likely use the financial boost.

“I just want to make sure everybody gets as much cheese as they can,” she said.

Lavigne opened Calf and Kid in 2010 as she grew her reputation in cheese-loving circles with pop-ups and events. Her Melrose cheese counter got a big boost when celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain paid a visit. She launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the buildout of Culture Club in a project originally planned for Ballard. Instead, Culture Club landed next door to 12th Ave nanobrewery Outer Planetwhich celebrated its one-year anniversary earlier this winter.

LaVigne finally opened Culture Club in the retail space in a new microhousing development late last year. “It’s not a wine bar. It’s a cheese bar,” she told CHS at the time. The concept was to offer cheese flights and wine or beer pairings. Pairings ran into the high $20s with cheese flight boards weighing in around $16 to $18 a pop — an “affordable luxury,” LaVigne said of her offerings.

Only a few months later in March, CHS reported on LaVigne’s decision to leave her berth inside the Melrose Market to consolidate her Calf and Kid cheese counter business at the 12th Ave bar. Now, after only six months, both Culture Club and the Calf and Kid counter are gone.

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25 thoughts on “Stretched too thin? Capitol Hill cheese bar Culture Club to close

  1. Given the owners vehement opposition to the minimum wage hike and claims that it would put the cheese counter out of business, I’m guessing it wasn’t a viable business plan from the start.

    • While I did engage in online conversations regarding the two legitimate sides of the minimum wage conversation, I never fundamentally opposed it.
      Since the opening of Calf & Kid 6 years ago I have always paid my employees above minimum wage, and at no point would I ever point a finger at it as a contributing fact to the failure of the business.

  2. I enjoyed the knowledgeable staff at the Melrose market shop. Yes, you can go to a large grocery for expanded selections, but you don’t always have the know.edgable staff to offer suggestions.

  3. This has nothing to do with cheese, it has to do with management. Each event this place put on had a line out the door, and was run right into the ground.

    If it was taken over by some experienced managers this place would do very well judging by historical data.

    • That very well could have been a contributing factor, unidentified online persona.
      While I have managed a handful of various food establishments in my past, I’ve never owned one, never been where the buck stops.

      I am an excellent cheesemonger, but I agree that I probably didn’t have the skills to manage a restaurant and a retail counter properly at the same time.

      And I have to say…… you do know from when goatse comes from right? Might not be the best word to reference yourself unless you are, in fact the asshole in question.

  4. I am sorry this didn’t work out. It was a nice addition to the neighborhood that will be missed. Best of luck with your chapter.

  5. In her interview with Eater, Lavigne mentioned receiving negative Yelp reviews when she first opened due to service and partly attributed the closure to people not giving the place a second change with such an over-saturated market. Surely this must be a common problem on the Hill, a lack of hospitality. Maybe this will bring attention to that.

  6. I really wish places would take better notice of their ambiance and lighting for their own sake. Whether people avoid spaces consciously or subconsciously it is still the same effect of lost business. This place and several others such as Pagliacci on Tenth use way too much bright spotlight lighting more appropriate for interrogations than for having a meal.

    • Oh god I am the first to admit that really was an issue. I was not happy with the realization of my vision, it was just wasn’t what I thought it would be. Had I been in a position to put money towards more decor, and honestly a consultation because I suck at it, I really would have.

  7. There are still great cheese mongers on the Hill. There is an American Cheeses Society Certified Cheese Professional at the Murry’s Cheese shop located in the Harvard Market QFC.

  8. Thank you Justin, for your continured support and combraderie over the years. Thank you, turophiles of Seattle, for the same!
    I did a great thing, I have received a great deal of support and sympathy as a result from this loss, and it outweighs the hate mail greatly.

    I know that I helped countless people appreciate cheese, and the knowledge around it, in an unprecedented way for Seattleites. I hope that those people continue to be adventurous in their selections, and strive to learn more. That’s exactly how I started.