Where did you get the idea for the conveyor belt?
The business started out in 2014 as a food truck selling high quality toasted cheese sandwiches. A few years later we launched The Cheese Bar in Camden, which focuses on hot cheese dishes including raclette and fondue. These went down well but we had a lot of people coming in that wanted to eat cheeseboards. We keep the cheeses front of house, but to our customer’s frustration we don’t have the operational capacity to let them create their own cheeseboards. We started thinking about a format that would let people pick and mix their cheeses and somewhere along the line the sushi conveyor idea came about and Pick & Cheese was born. It felt gimmicky at first. But the more we discussed it with people that work in the cheese industry the more we realised that it made sense. It works better operationally for cheese than it does for sushi because most cheeses are at their best served at room temperature.
How long can the cheese go round on the belt?
Four hours. This should help minimise wastage. KERB's Seven Dials Market is in a very central area and we’re expecting to be busy all the time - the concept would not work if we had a three hour lull in the middle of the day. We’ve spent a lot of time working on bespoke plates and glass domes to cover the cheeses, we didn’t want the plastic things most sushi restaurants use. We’ll use a colour coded plate system to work out bills just like sushi restaurants. There are five plates ranging in price from £2.95 to £6.10. We wanted the price point for three plates and a glass of wine to be roughly comparable to how much a chain restaurant would charge for a cheeseboard and a glass of wine.
What’s on the belt?
We have 20 British cheeses in the restaurant at any one time. Each one is served with an accompaniment. For example, we serve Cropwell Bishop Stilton with a chocolate and oat cookie; Gubbeen with sweet and sour pineapple; Rollright with bacon treacle spread; and Baron Bigod with mushroom duxelles. In addition to the cheeses on the belt we have four ‘off-the-belt’ dishes, including a grilled cheese sandwich, a baked cheese and burrata. We also have two desserts: a cheese-flavoured soft-serve and an ice cream we make with blue cheese.
Tell us about the setup...
We have 22 seats round the belt, and at the back there are two six-seater booths. On the back wall we have two display fridges and then in the middle we have a cheese cutting table manned by a cheesemonger. We want to get people interested in high quality British cheese. The whole idea of The Cheese Truck was to give people access to great cheese in a fun and informal way. There are lots of good cheeses out there but they are typically served at expensive places that aren’t that relaxed. 90% of the people we serve at festivals probably don’t think that much about what they’re eating, but some are interested and want to know about British cheese.
Tell us about the drinks program...
We’re focusing on natural wine. We’ve worked with Les Caves de Pyrene to create a list of seven reds and seven whites by the glass. We’re offering them in 75ml or 125ml measures so people can easily try things. Each will be matched with a certain cheese. The wines start at about £3. We have a fair few orange wines and sherries because they match well with cheese.
Where do restaurants go wrong when serving cheese?
I hardly ever eat cheese in restaurants. When I do my big gripe is it coming to the table cold. But having spent the last few years working with chefs I know how hard it is to get them to not just take it out the fridge and put it on a plate. Sometime people over complicate it by having too many weird and wonderful condiments or by pouring honey all over it. It’s best to keep it simple. For many restaurants just serving one really great cheese with one accompaniment is better than having three or four different cheeses. It’s also much easier to manage and control wastage.
How important has Instagram been to your success?
It’s certainly played a part. Especially for the trucks. Melty cheese clickbait videos did a lot for us in the early days of the business. There was a period after we launched where I was a bit worried that it was somehow diminishing what we do. But I'm okay with it now. I'm confident that what we do is authentic. If social gets people though the door and learning about British cheese that’s great. It will be the same for Pick & Cheese. We’ve already had a little article in The Sun.