TRAVERSE CITY — A black sandwich board sits atop an Eighth Street snowbank with chalk art drawings of cheese, bread, and the words “Cheese Shop Open.”
Inside, Manny’s Specialty Cheese bustles. The tiny shop is lined with dairy cases filled with cheeses familiar and exotic, and bakers’ racks stand nearby with charcuterie, mustards, crackers, sweets and accessories.
Cheesemonger Emanual “Manny” Gualco, 58, is the man behind this unique new business.
“I keep it simple … it has to taste great,” Gualco said, noting he samples every type of cheese and all other products before he orders anything for the shop. He also encourages his customers to sample before they buy.
Manny’s Specialty Cheese opened for business in May 2013 on Eighth Street in Traverse City. Since then Gualco steadily built awareness and clientele. His stock is focused on artisanal, domestic and imported cheeses and items to complement them.
Names like Red Dragon, Morbier, Blue Moon, Gabriel Coulet, Merlot Vellavitano, Tallegio and many dozens more fill the cases. Each is chosen by Gualco based on their taste, uniqueness to the region and his experience in the industry.
“Cheese is a very individual preference. Why should anyone want to buy something before they taste it?” he said. “I want people to feel comfortable coming in, asking questions and trying things.”
“Cheese shouldn’t be intimidating; it’s just food,” he said.
Customers appreciate Gualco’s personal service and camaraderie.
“Shopping with Manny is an experience, not a chore," said customer Mary Raymer of Williamsburg. "He clearly enjoys educating people about fine cheeses. Customer service is his forte. He is always happy to share. When I mentioned a Norwegian cheese I longed for, he promptly ordered it and I had it within a week. Manny makes you feel like you are his only customer. “
Gualco is a veteran of California-based Nugget Markets’ cheese department and, before that he had a 25-year career in the corporate office furniture world. Gualco owned a vacation home in the region for decades. He and his wife, Grand Traverse native Kristen Joppich, relocated from Sacramento to northern Michigan in 2010 and decided to open the shop a few years later.