A cheese shop in Austin transformed its 10-year-old business model in 10 days. Here’s how the owners did it.

John and Kendall Antonelli are the owners of Antonelli’s Cheese in Austin, Texas.
They reinvented their business model in 10 days during the pandemic, adding curbside pickup and a virtual cheesemonger experience.
Antonelli’s is a Capital One Spark Cash Plus customer and uses the card’s 2% cash-back rewards to offset employee healthcare costs.

John and Kendall Antonelli opened Antonelli’s Cheese in 2010 in Austin, Texas. What began as a grilled-cheese club out of the married couple’s home has since evolved into a cheese shop that hosts hundreds of classes and events every year, a wholesale business that sells cheese to over 150 restaurants, and a thriving e-commerce site.

A typical day at the Antonellis’ house kicks off with a family dance party with John, Kendall, and their two kids moving to an upbeat, celebratory tune – something that has become especially needed, given the challenges the business endured during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the onset of COVID-19 shutdowns, Antonelli’s transitioned to phone and online orders along with curbside pickups – a new service for the store. This led to the creation of the store’s virtual cheesemonger experience, which allows customers to schedule 15-minute video chats where they can consult with one of the store’s cheese experts. After customers place their orders, they can pick up their cheese curbside or have it shipped directly to their homes.

“We literally changed every part of our business model in 10 days,” John said. “The pandemic reinforced one of my favorite quotes, which is ‘progress, not perfection,’ and the importance of iterating. You just have to start at some point.”

The human connection

John and Kendall already had several ideas about reaching new customers and engaging with them more intimately. The pandemic provided the opportunity to implement some of them, like virtual cheese tastings and classes. To date, they have hosted more than 15,000 people at virtual events.

That said, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Antonellis weren’t sure of which direction to take. But they knew they wanted to keep their team together at all costs. “We were initially running around like chickens with our heads cut off, but John kept the team grounded and aligned with our goals,” Kendall said.

The couple, understandably, didn’t want to lay off any of their employees. “We decided we would do everything in our power to not do that,” Kendall said. “We didn’t want a single Texas cheese maker to go out of business either.”

Amazingly, not only did the store avoid layoffs, but it was actually able to hire people, including some store employees’ partners who had lost their jobs. Amid one of the toughest financial climates in recent history, Antontelli’s grew the size of their workforce by 40% across three locations.

That’s not all the Antonellis were able to accomplish despite COVID-19. Determined to uphold their mission to “do good, eat good” and link producers to consumers, they encouraged their retail partners to give virtual tours of their farms and production centers. This is one of the many ways the duo has chosen to support local cheese makers, several of which had to close during the pandemic. To ensure they’re doing their part to keep their makers’ brands in the public eye, John and Kendall include the pictures and stories of several producers on the backs of Antonelli’s product jars.

“We really say at the end of the day we’re storytellers,” John said. “Our goal is to share stories with every bite of cheese.”

A strong financial support system

A crucial part of Antontelli’s success is a strong financial strategy and access to funds to keep all the business operations going – and thriving. To help keep themselves on track, the Antonellis have worked with Capital One for several years.

They recently added the new Capital One Spark Cash Plus card to their wallets, which offers unlimited 2% cash back and no preset spending limit. “Capital One has been a partner since 2016 in our business, one of the hardest-working team members we’ve ever had,” John said. “The 2% cash back constantly is reinvesting into our business, and the customer-service team there has always been right at our fingertips to answer any of the questions that we’ve had. It’s amazing.”

Additionally, the cashback earned on their new card helps offset the costs of health insurance for the entire Antonelli’s team. “This is particularly important right now given how tough it is to retain and hire staff,” John said.

Suffice it to say the team members are all big fans of the Spark Cash Plus card as well – 11 of them have their own.

Both John and Kendall see creativity – in thinking about finances, designing new business models, and experimenting with marketing – as integral to being an entrepreneur.

“Sometimes it’s really challenging to be a small business, especially in a big lake or ocean, and yet at the same time there’s so much beauty in it,” Kendall said. “At the start of the pandemic, we reminded ourselves that we’re nimble. We can make a decision, put up a new sign the next day, and be operational.”

At the end of each day, the Antonelli’s Cheese team makes a point of high-fiving one another in person and virtually. The next morning they’ll celebrate their wins, set their goals for the day, and continue to share stories with every bite of cheese.

Find out more about how the Capital One Spark Cash Plus card has helped the Antonellis and can help your small business.

This post was created by Insider Studios with Capital One.

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