Cheese and wine shop a welcome delight
By Christine Hyatt
Starting a small business entails a challenging task in normal times. Undertaking such a venture during a pandemic requires an even bigger leap of courage, daring spirit and clarity of purpose. Kristen Kidney surely possesses all three. The new owner of Good Company Cheese Bar and Bistro in downtown Newberg has such a passion for great cheese and wine that she was determined to open shop, no matter the obstacles.
The world of fine cheese seduced Kidney while studying abroad in France’s Loire Valley. “I didn’t explore as much cheese as I wish I would have while in France,” she explained, “but I did eat a lot of Camembert de Normandy and tried Roquefort with salted butter. That was quite a moment.”
During her senior year at the University of Oregon, a job posting for a cheese steward at Market of Choice caught her eye. She explains, “I had no experience and thought it was a long shot, but they ended up hiring me, and the rest is history.”
Kidney worked part-time at the cheese counter while finishing her studies. “I left my ‘final final exam and immediately went home, changed into my uniform and went to work. It was somewhat anticlimactic. Wow, I just finished college today. What am I going to do? Let’s go sell some cheese!”
Kristen Kidney, owner of Good Company in Newberg. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt
For a few years post-graduation, Kidney helped her parents establish their tasting room at Trinity Vineyards outside Salem. As a child, she remembers the painstaking process of her parents building a business, literally from the ground up.
“My dad would spend weekends on the tractor, preparing the land, removing unsalvageable, mis-planted vines and blackberry brambles before the current vineyard could even be planted,” she recalled. Seeing firsthand the hard work and sweat equity required in building a business, Kidney had her eyes on eventually opening a shop, but knew she needed more experience.
Opportunities to pursue cheese dreams in Salem were minimal, so she and her fiancé moved to Northwest Portland in 2011, so she could gain knowledge and know-how. She quickly found work at Elephant’s Delicatessen and Zupan’s Market, eventually managing and buying product for two of the city’s finest cheese counters.
After adding marriage and motherhood to the mix, she kept returning to the idea of opening her own shop rather than work for someone else. “After my son got older, it felt like the right time in my life and career to pursue this goal.”
When she began hunting for properties in March 2019, her sights were set on the ideal location and relative affordability of historic Newberg; its access to both wine country and greater populated areas was ideal. But, finding a property to fit her needs proved elusive for months.
And then the pandemic hit.
A year after her initial property search, her real estate agent found a small restaurant space soon to be available. Kidney soon began negotiations in earnest, signing the lease in March 2020. Securing financing during the pandemic took longer than anticipated, but Kidney persevered, opening her doors Sept. 1.
The case at Good Company in Newberg is filled with delicious cheeses. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt
The well-stocked, welcoming shop features a tasty collection of Kidney’s favorite cut-to-order cheeses and charcuterie, along with a robust selection of cheese-friendly provisions. During these socially distanced times, the dining area has been transformed into a wine shop, with selections from Europe and Oregon, prominently featuring wines from her parents’ Trinity Vineyard.
“The reception has been wonderful and overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “People are so very supportive, telling us how glad they are that we are here and that Yamhill County and Newberg needed something like this.”
Even with the state-mandated restrictions, business was steady from the outset and remained so through the holidays as more customers discovered Kidney’s expert-curated cheese plates, cheese-centric dishes along with wine, beer and cocktail selections by the glass, all available for takeout.
She looks forward to post-COVID days when Good Company can host indoor dining, events and classes. As conditions improve, she’s looking forward to more collaborations with wineries, such as offering customized cheeses for tasting rooms.
“One of my business mantras, ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,’ helps me focus on keeping things in the lane where we excel. At the end of the day, it’s all about the cheese.”
As our current homebound existence continues, culinary delights from near and far can help ease the cabin fever and winter blues, not to mention inspire adventures to come. Access to fine foods made by real artisans affords us an opportunity to enjoy a moment of connection with others, even as we must wait a little longer to be together again.
Kristen’s Cheese + Wine Recs
German cheesemaker Arturo Chiriboga makes this creamy blue so subtle and velvety that even non-blue lovers will swoon. Made in Bavaria, the cheese ages two months and contains all the decadence and none of the bite of other famed blues. Kidney recommends pairing the decadent cheese with a sweet dessert wine like J. Craw Semillion.
Secret de Compostelle
From the Basque region of France, the sheep milk cheese packs a lot of flavor, aging a bit longer than Ossau Iraty, another celebrated area specialty. The cheese is named for the pilgrimage route winding its way through the region. Kidney enjoys thin slivers of the silky-textured cheese alongside a glass of Trinity Vineyards Pinot Noir.
Face 2 Face
This incredible cheddar combines the best of both worlds: sheep and cow milk. Made by Face Rock Creamery in Bandon and aged for a minimum of 13 months, this is for any cheddar lover. The milk is sourced from two small family dairy partners just a short drive from the creamery. Kidney says this cheddar plays well with Youngberg Hill Syrah.