For Antonelli’s, the time to innovate is now.
It was on their honeymoon that John Antonelli turned to his wife Kendall and proclaimed his plan to go into the cheese business. The Antonellis have always loved food, particularly fine cheeses. In 2010, they transformed their passion into a business, and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin was born.
Ten years on, Antonelli’s is known for bringing delicious, cut-to-order cheese from local farmers to the people, providing local restaurants with artisanal varieties and hosting tasting events. It touts a “Do good, eat good” motto, meaning all cheese and accoutrements come from producers who do right by their employees and livestock, while using ethical production methods to create exquisite products.
Right now, the Antonellis, like so many other business owners, are being forced to adapt to the ever-changing situation around us. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s pushed them to act on new ideas.
Ten days to reinvent a 10-year-old business.
It was early March when John and Kendall first heard that South by Southwest, a mega-conference that usually draws massive crowds and business to the city, would be canceled this year due to COVID-19. The news sparked action — and anxiety. They hunkered down for an all-night strategy session to map out how Antonelli’s could keep moving as their city shut down. “All our clients — restaurants, hotels, caterers — canceled their orders almost immediately. And from there, our business dropped off by 95 percent in the span of three days,” explains John.
Over the next 10 days, John and Kendall reinvented their business. They moved quickly to offer curbside pickup — even before the official lockdown order was announced — to protect their team and customers. They ramped up online and phone orders and updated their website to explain how Antonelli’s would function during COVID-19. “I think it was 11 in the morning that me and my manager made that decision. And by one, we had curbside rolled out, phone orders rolled out and online orders rolled out — in two hours,” John recalls. Next, they transformed in-person events into virtual ones. With only a vague idea how to do it, they moved everything to Facebook Live and improvised. “We’re just rolling with it. And it’s real and it’s who we are. And so far, I think owning that has been our best branding ever,” says Kendall.
Some days are successful, others more challenging. But one thing John and Kendall never expected to find in the midst of a pandemic was the motivation to launch ideas they’ve shelved for months or even years. “Throughout this whole COVID-19 thing, we’ve just been going under the mantra of progress, not perfection. We’d always waited for things to be perfect to launch them, and now we don’t have that luxury,” explains Kendall. Topping their list of newly implemented ideas is a new YouTube channel and a Cheesemonger Live feature, which gives customers a virtual peek into cheese cases and lets them video chat with experts while selecting produce.
Listen and talk to your people.
John and Kendall continue to work tirelessly to keep Antonelli’s afloat. On tougher days, they read customers’ reviews to recharge their motivation. “They all want us to be around at the end of this. It’s been humbling. It’s been amazing,” John says of Antonelli’s supporters.
Their advice for businesses in similar situations is to listen and talk to your customers. John and Kendall have an entire page on their website dedicated to updating customers during this time. People asked for online orders, Antonelli’s delivered. People were stuck at home — sometimes completely isolated — so John and Kendall created a social distancing care package for people to send comfort to friends and family.
Some days you rock it and it’s an awesome day, and some days you’re like, ‘Dang’.KENDALL Antonelli
They also want other entrepreneurs to know that self-doubt is normal. “You don’t know if you’re making the right decision. You just take in all the information you have; you make the best decision you can at that moment. It’s not always right, but you have to change quickly and adapt,” says Kendall. “Some days you rock it and it’s an awesome day, and some days you’re like, ‘Dang’.”