Andrew Wheeler is a self-described storyteller, and right now he’s telling stories about cheese. It’s not hard to see how stories and cheese connect when you watch Andrew, and his wife Kim, serve customers in their one-of-a-kind Downtown Guelph cheese shop. They socialize with the patrons, offering tastings of cheese, while sharing unique pieces of information about the history of the cheese and how it’s made.
“Tomme, it rhymes with Home,” said Andrew, who launched TOMME Cheese Shop in June of 2018.
Weaving storytelling into his day job is something that Andrew is familiar with, he’s worked as a writer, journalist, and marketer over the years. He knew that cheese had a story to tell too, and he was the perfect person for the job.
“I landed on a cheese shop, because Downtown Guelph just doesn’t have one,” said Andrew, who has always been a cheese fanatic and foodie.
Well, now Guelph does. A cheese shop run by the Wheeler family, where Andrew works full-time, and his wife Kim helps on occasional weekends and evenings – in addition to her day job. The Wheeler kids, Madeline and Aiden, both high school students, also worked at the cheese shop over the summer.
“And yes, they were paid!” laughs Andrew.
In order to set up for the shop Andrew spent time travelling and visiting with different cheese makers throughout Ontario. There is about a 50/50 split between Canadian made and International cheeses offered at TOMME, and Andrew said that sales tend to be equally divided amongst the two.
“The whole concept of the store really goes back to relationships,” said Andrew, who has developed a friendly comraderie with his customers, other Downtown Guelph businesses, and cheesemakers.
On his travels Andrew found himself at Monforte Dairy, a dairy farm in Stratford, Ontario.
“They make one cheese at the end of the week called Hodge Podge,” said Andrew.
As the name suggests, Hodge Podge is a combination of cheeses – sheep and water buffalo! – leftover at the end of the week. The cheese is left to age, creating a nice hard cheese, said Andrew. It’s a customer favourite at TOMME, and unique because no wheel is the exact same.
Andrew said international cheeses are popular too, especially because they’re what most people are familiar with. Andrew imports cheese from France, the United Kingdom, Holland, and Italy.
When I asked what Andrew’s favourite cheese is, he didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Mimolette,” he said, but he adds that its history is as delicious as its flavour.
Andrew shared: in the 1600’s France and Holland were at war. France was now deprived of Holland’s delectable cheeses, since consuming the enemy’s cheese would be out of the question. The government ordered French cheesemakers to make a copycat of Holland’s cheese, and the Mimolette was born. The cheese has a distinctive bright orange colour; the colour is how the French could distinguish between their cheese and their enemy’s.
Of course after hundreds of years the way the cheese is made would change, but that bright orange colour remains. At TOMME, it’s a top seller, no doubt thanks to the depth of flavour, combined with the engaging story that Andrew tells.
The store itself tells its own story. It was designed by husband and wife team Art and Bethany Gier of This Little Estate. The local design duo customized the vision that Andrew had, and brought it to life.
Andrew also had a custom built cheese case, one that allows for easy viewing of cheese displayed, and easy conversation over the case.
Having a Downtown location has allowed for collaboration with other Downtown businesses. Andrew serves locally made fresh bread on weekends, the shop offers charcuterie made with meat from a nearby store, and will be selling oils and vinegars from another Downtown shop. The vision is to eventually get a liquor license and host wine and cheese nights, something that customers are eager to support.
Within a few short months of opening TOMME is becoming a part of the community, a place where brides and grooms come after getting married across the street at city hall, or Downtown business people stop in on their lunch break.
As for whether this is a solo entreprise, or a family business, Andrew says that TOMME has brought his family together; it’s a project they have all worked towards. While talking Andrew’s pride for both family and their business is clear.
“I love that we can all work together,” he says. He hesitates and then adds, “It’s cheesy, but it’s true.” You can never get away from a good cheese pun!
If you’d like to find out more about TOMME Cheese Shop, visit their Facebook page.
Story by Brianna Bell
Photography by Daniel Bell
January 31, 2019