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 Planet, which 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.