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The Speciality Cheesemonger

Based in a historic Tudor courtyard The Cheese and Ale Barn allies a very modern phenomenon – the craft-ale boom – with Britain’s enduring passion for cheese.

Louise Sharpe, The Cheese and Ale Barn, Tamworth

Forget cheese and wine night – because cheese and craft ale is the latest trendy combination.

Based in Tamworth in the West Midlands, The Cheese and Ale Barn sits in the courtyard of a grade II listed Tudor barn, Middleton Hall.

We spoke to Louise Sharpe, the founder and owner, about her journey from clearing tables to owning a food retailer.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background before starting your own business?

I started my journey clearing tables at a service station while completing an NVQ level 3 in leisure and tourism. I then moved on to working in a convenience store, where I worked my way up to assistant manager and then store manager.

When the small convenience store was taken over by a large corporate organisation I continued to work for them as store manager and took additional responsibility supporting loss-making stores to help turn them around.

In 2013 my health took a turn for the worse and I realised that I could no longer work for the large corporate organisation.  

How did you get into the industry?

After working in retail for the last 20 years and watching consumers buy mass-produced products, I felt passionate about finding quality products, produced by individuals who have a passion for supporting local traders, producers and farmers in Britain.

Once the idea was finalised and the location chosen, we nestled ourselves in Middleton Hall courtyard.

How many varieties of cheese and ale do you sell? How do you decide which ones to stock?

At any one time the shop will stock more than 30 varieties of cheeses and we are constantly on the lookout for interesting new additions. All our ale stocks are from small breweries which are not sold in big retail chains.  

We like to keep our bestsellers, but we also try to vary the range as often as possible. Our try-before-you-buy option gives me the satisfaction of seeing my customers experience a taste that is completely new to them.

Have you diversified your business at all?

After starting very small with just cheese and ale we have evolved at great speed. Our range of products has greatly widened and we are now happy to offer local jams and chutneys, pork pies and sausage rolls, free range eggs and fresh breads, wines and gins plus cheese-making kits – the list goes on.

We compose bespoke hampers, platters, wedding cakes and picnic baskets to each individual’s tastes. Recently in popular demand are our cheese and ale experience evenings.

What advice would you give to aspiring or inexperienced small-business owners?

Be brave; life is too short to procrastinate. Keep things interesting and constantly strive for something that will capture your customer’s attention.

Melanie Luff

About the author

Mel wrote for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other global industry publications.


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