Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: Stoutways with Kendall Antonelli
Bold, Brave, and Determined
No journey can be started without these Stoutways.
This energetic cheesemonger dreams big, lives even bigger — and makes sure that no one stands alone.
▪ BOLD ▪
Quitting my job and chosen career path in international human rights work for a job in cheese was probably one of the boldest decisions I’ve ever made. I had a job I loved, I had a published masters thesis, and with my colleagues, I had one of the highest case loads in the nation working with immigrant crime survivors. But it was consuming me, and it was all-consuming work. And there was more to do. When John turned to me on our honeymoon and said he wanted to quit his job as a CPA for a life in cheese, I thought that would be his journey.
Only later did I come full circle to realize that I, too, was in love with telling the story of good food and the labor of love that goes into making it. After all, I’m the daughter of cattle ranchers and had shown lambs in 4-H in my youth, as well as competed in rodeos. I could speak to the agricultural lifestyle and how it is much more than the romanticized notion we often dream of it. But I was realistic and knew I didn’t want to make cheese. As simple as it sounds, I wanted to eat it, talk about it, and share it with anyone that would listen. So I gave up everything I knew for an unknown path, and I’m in love with this adventure I’m still on today.
▪ BRAVE ▪
A couple of weeks ago, I stood on a stage in front of almost 2000 folks and recounted my personal story of being hospitalized with depression in college. While I have always been open about my own journey in personal settings, I had never talked about it on such a public stage for fear of the stigma and repercussions. I agreed to serve as the NAMI Austin Walks Honorary Chair not only as part of my own healing process and to “own it”, but also to speak to those folks who may feel alone and let them know they are not isolated. I was equal parts excited and anxious, but was emboldened by the #CurdHerd supporters surrounding me.
The beauty in it is that so many folks have reached out to me to share their own experiences – either personally affected by mental illness or through a loved one. I got one email that simply said, “I thought I was the only one. Thank you.” In sharing our stories, both the successes and the perceived failures, we humanize ourselves and find common ground. Of course, I don’t look back on that time as a failure; instead, it was quite the opposite, and I’m so proud that I crawled, scraped, and pulled myself out of that dark hole. I’m grateful today to be living proof that others can get out of that hole, too. But yes, you have to be brave.
▪ DETERMINED ▪Folks often ask how it is to work alongside my husband all day and if we drive each other nuts. Quite the contrary, we get to work together every day, and we don’t let each other forget it. We wanted to create this lifestyle together – blending our professional and personal lives. That said, it isn’t without challenges. Although we call the Cheese Shop our first baby, I remember when we started having conversations that we were ready to start a family. Working 16-17 hour days when we first opened – with no lunch breaks and no days off, starting a family seemed like an impossible stretch. But instead of getting discouraged, we sat down with pen and paper and sketched out a plan answering all the steps we’d need to do to get to a place where I could take off and have a baby. Part of that meant hiring some great folks. Fast forward, and we had a trained team of cheesemongers. The business seemed stable enough for us to pull away a bit.
Only then, I had to let go of our first employee. And while that was difficult in and of itself (and I’m sure I could’ve done it better!), I was also heartbroken that this meant our future plans for a family were postponed. We simply couldn’t spare the labor. Then John reminded me of our first rule of going into business together: If for a moment we felt that our business negatively impacted our family life, we walk away. We remember that we created the business instead to meet the needs of our family life. And that’s the day we stopped letting the business dictate our personal lives. We made the decision then and there that night . . . and our son was born the following year. Anytime we are faced with challenging decisions, we remind ourselves to trust our gut, lead our lives the way we want, and let the rest fall into place.
A Journey’s Sharp Turn
Love not only makes the world go ’round; it can also make lives take dramatic turns. Really dramatic turns, like going from international human rights work to opening a cheese shop. Such has been the journey for Kendall Antonelli, who with her husband owns and operates their namesake artisinal cheese shop in Austin, Texas.
So how does one go about taking a passion and turning it into a successful business? It certainly helps to have the spirit of living life as adventure that Antonelli embodies. As she explains, “I may not know all the answers, but I know that the ups and downs are all part of the journey.” Antonelli also displays a level of fearlessness that can only come from someone who has been snakebit before – in her case, literally. But perhaps the most simple reason of all for her success is summed up in her current personal mantra, which is simply, “Show up.” After all, that is often half the battle.
Antonelli also agrees that as a craftsman of any kind, you must continue to evolve. Goal-setting is an important part of honing her own craft, and she uses several strategies to make her goals a reality. Key is making sure those objectives are written down and shared – in fact, she and her husband periodically cover the walls of the shop with butcher paper and use that as a canvas for setting out their goals, hopes and dreams. Some are new, and some are course corrections to previous ideas. She also cites one of her five core principles (see full list in the Takeways section below), “Improve every day”, as a key component of staying engaged and successful.
Some days you will rock, other days you will drop the ball — but every day is an opportunity to kick ass.
— Kendall Antonelli
A Voice for the Voiceless
A self-professed “loud woman who isn’t afraid to speak up”, Antonelli has long put her voice to work for those who typically aren’t heard or are afraid to speak. In her past life, that mean assisting victims of human trafficking and other international rights violations. Today, that means sharing her own experience to spotlight mental health, as well as telling the story every day at her shop of the artisans behind the cheeses they sell.
Self-care is also critical for someone who does so much for others. Living an outspoken life means that downtime focuses on quiet time — the Antonellis’ favorite date night is heading to the movies, because, as Kendall says, “we have to listen and absorb.” Another favorite recharge is being outdoors with her kids, an experience even more dear to her after being forced to spend three months indoors this past summer following serious back surgery. (Ask her about the dubious bedroom paint job her craving for nature inspired).
Do Good. Eat Good.
More than just a mission statement for the company, for Antonelli it is a motto that applies to all realms of her life. She and John refused to believe the notion that “you can’t have your cake and eat it,too”. They simply went for it, and put everything together to create a seamless lifestyle. The kids join them at the shop after school for a snack. Family vacations are often trips at home and abroad to visit cheesemakers. As Antonelli shares, “The blended world is the one we wanted to live in.”
Kendall Antonelli’s Core Principles for Life and Work
Passion with Purpose. It takes both for true success, Antonelli explains, and it is their #1 core principle. One without the other is only half a life, so look to pair what you love with what you want to achieve.
Be True. To Ourselves. To Others. There’s a reason why authenticity is at the forefront of so many conversations these days. People delight in and are drawn to honest passion, both personally and professionally.
Be a Juggernaut of Awesome. Growing up, Antonelli watched her mother tackle one challenge after another with positive tenacity, and excel at every one. Now she funnels that same passion, enthusiasm and commitment into everything she does.
Family First. Then Business. This reflects a promise the couple made to each other when they first went into business — if they felt for a moment that their business was negatively impacting their family life, then they would walk away. Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
Improve Every Day. Key to this, says Antonelli, is that you “can’t stay in a vacuum.” You have to expand, by putting yourself out there, and surrounding yourself with challenging people, particularly those whose strengths mirror your own weaknesses.
#CurdHerd and Beyond
As someone who freely confesses to struggling with the ability to say “no”, Antonelli’s future looks as busy (or even busier, if that’s possible) as her current days. In addition to the booming business, staying active in the cheese-making community (mad props to the hashtag “#CurdHerd”, by the way) and being “in the moment” with her kids, she has recently ventured into the policy area of local politics. Her authentic connection with audiences about mental health have also put her in demand as a speaker. Whatever she tackles next, you’ll find her celebrating a job well done with bubbles and of course, cheese.
Want even more inspiration from our #StoutWAYS successes? Take a deep dive into our StoutWAYS archives, and let their unique insights help bring out your Stout.