COVID-19 Can’t Stop This Family Owned Wisconsin Cheese Company

Alex Ota

David Scharfman and his father, Paul, who started the parent company, Specialty Cheese, Inc. They bought the old local high school and converted it to offices and plant… here’s the “principal’s office”

You may know Just the Cheese as the delicious, crunchy #1 cheese snack on Amazon, but don’t let that fool you – Just The Cheese is a small, family-owned company with deep roots in rural Wisconsin. Based in Reeseville (population ~500), Just the Cheese prides itself on helping support the economic base of the town and employing 250 residents. Managing a rural workforce has always presented challenges, as potential employees usually live miles away, and struggle with spotty access to transportation. Just The Cheese addresses this by providing ride-share services to all employees to make sure they can get to work safely each day.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Just the Cheese’s workers were naturally concerned about coming to work but also relied on a steady paycheck. With employees scrambling in light of school closings and other major life disruptions, Just the Cheese has added flexibility to its production schedule, instituted added sanitization protocols, and above anything else, wants to make sure that its employees have a job to go to.

One of the ways they’re doing that is by continuing to purchase milk from dairy farmers. “We’re doing everything we can to support farmers who send us milk. Turning milk away essentially means those farmers have to dump their milk and lose that revenue.”  They’re also striving to fulfill orders and keep up with spiking demand in a timely manner – as a one-of-a-kind, shelf-stable single-ingredient cheese bar, people are ordering more for fear that items will run out as the pandemic continues. And despite the surging demand for their cheese products, Just the Cheese has not — and will not – raise their prices.

“Everyone here is relieved that they have a job and are proud to make sure our customers have cheese to eat, and to help our local farmers by making sure they have a buyer for their milk,” says David Scharfman, Owner and General Manager of Just the Cheese. “Uncertainty is stressful for everyone, so our job is to manage that uncertainty as best we can for our team.”

 





 

Just the Cheese is striving to run at full capacity and thanks to efforts of the team have been able to do so—it just shipped 20 pallets of product to Amazon last week. The company is also sending any excess product to food banks and hospitals, where a shelf-stable cheese snack is welcome.

Internally, in addition to adding more sanitization procedures to their already rigorous cleanliness protocol, they have instituted policies to reduce the likelihood of infection, such as:

  • No more visitors to the plant
  • No retail sales at the factory
  • Working remotely where/when possible
David Scharfman when he appeared on Shark Tank

Recently, Just the Cheese made headlines again when Scharfman appeared on Shark Tank – and walked away from a six-figure deal. He came on the show to pitch his brand, and to see if one of the Sharks would be interested in investing $500K and receive 5% of the business. Scharfman was offered three deals – one each from Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban – and he declined all three.

 





 

“I felt like it wasn’t enough”, says Scharfman today. “My family, our community, our employees, we’ve all poured heart and sweat into making this product, and I was standing up there for them.” (To see the segment, click here.)

Since the airing of the episode, Just the Cheese has been working overtime to process orders – they sold out of all stock within 48 hours of the show. It looks like those employees will be collecting paychecks for quite some time.

David lived in Southeast Asia for six years where he took a stab at creating a Wisconsin cheese brand in the Philippines. After that, he traveled home to the US for business school, did a stint as a consultant in New York, and then came back full circle, to run Just the Cheese.

Just the Cheese – just like the Engine that Could. . . don’t expect this snack to run out anytime soon.

Editor’s note: The author is senior account executive public relations with ChicExecs Agency in San Marcos, Calif.

 

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