In a world of hustle, drive-thrus, and online ordering, we often overlook the value of slowing down to enjoy created experiences. Ones where we take a breath and sit to savor what’s in front of us. These experiences engage our senses, allowing us to take note of exceptional service, quality of food, and share in conversation with our company. This is especially true in the service industry and it is what sets apart the good and the outstanding business. And that is what Tina and Alan Mooney set out to create through The Fox and the Crow.
Four years ago, Tina and Alan Mooney moved from rural, small-town Connecticut to the city life of Fort Collins. With backgrounds in carpentry, teaching, and fitness training, both Tina and Alan spent much time discussing what their lives could look like settling in a new city with more opportunities than where they came from. Several ideas were thrown around including joining friends in their venture to open a new brewery, and another to start a heavy-metal themed food truck serving donuts to locals.
It was on New Year’s Day 2014 when conversation formed between Tina and Alan around opening a local cheese shop. Their love for entertaining and hosting confirmed their decision to enter the service industry. With little experience in business and limited knowledge about cheese, they knew there was a lot to do and learn before they would hang an “Open” sign in their window.
Tina gained her knowledge and experience with a variety of cheesemongers at an intensive cheese school in San Francisco, where on average they consumed 50 kinds of cheese per day. It was there that Tina began noticing how art history, her studied background, connected so closely to the cheese industry. Both have an origin, whether an artist or cheesemaker, and each bear a story of process– how it was created or pasteurized. This storytelling mimicked in cheese-making would later be foundational in their business model.
After returning to Fort Collins, Tina discovered the Small Business Development Center in town whose mission is to simply help existing and new businesses develop and become successful. Through SBDC’s classes and networking opportunities, Tina learned the importance of research– not only know about logistics but the importance of research in getting to know her customer-base and what they wanted. Tina knew she couldn’t walk around with blinders, ignorant to what her potential customers were looking for. They would be her greatest resource for building this business and catering to her public.
Tina spent long days standing outside of local stores surveying the public about artisan cheese and their views and frequency visiting local cheese shops. What she found was people felt intimidated walking into a cheese shop not knowing what to order or how to pronounce the names of these artisan cheeses. There was an assumed prestige attached to these shops and Tina knew she needed to break this barrier. As she gathered research and started learning from the public, she and Alan began formulating the foundations of their business.
They recognized the need for a shop like theirs in midtown Fort Collins nestled between Sprouts and a Starbucks as convenience was key to their potential customer. Tina and Alan got the name, The Fox and The Crow, from one of Aesop’s fables. In this tale, the fox uses flattery to provoke the crow to drop her cheese into his mouth. Antiques decorate the shop mimicking this fable, and staff wear T-shirts that read, “Flattery will get you cheese.”
Their doors opened for business in November 2015. Tina and Alan were intentional in every aspect of the design and hiring of their business to create an inviting, warm, and kitchen-style ambiance for the everyday consumer. The growing number of staff– from 5 to 11 in under a year’s time– reflects the positive response of the public.
Through the steady flow of customers becoming regulars, Tina and Alan have been intentional to give back to the community they love and desire to serve. They partner with local cheese makers, along with local breweries, including Horse & Dragon, to support and celebrate the products made in town. The thank-you notes from several charities display the support they give to others. Perhaps most important and close to their hearts, is their blue cheese grater that is lit for Autism Awareness Month in April when 10% of their blue cheese sales are donated to Autism Speaks. Yet, their cheese grater stays lit year-round in honor of their third son who has autism.
As recent business owners, Tina and Alan identify their staff and regulars as their motivation. It doesn’t take long to feel welcomed by the staff once stepping inside. Each staff member takes their time with each customer, making sure they are still getting to know the likes and dislikes of their consumers. Valuing quality and presentation over profit, their cheese boards are designed to encourage experimentation as their cheeses are paired with local honey, fruits, meats, and sweets. The development of their menu came about through trial and error at home, which now includes specialty sandwiches, soups, quiches, and desserts.
Tina and Alan have sought to create a memorable experience for each customer whether visiting or returning to The Fox and The Crow. They encourage everyone to slow down and to enjoy the food they are served, to try new menu items and to savor the experiences that allow us to appreciate the simple things around us.
Written by Sarah Brase, Writing Specialist, Story On