Las Vegas’ Cured and Whey expanded its operations
to fulfill a need in the region.
There’s not much Las Vegas is lacking, especially when it comes to food. However, when Michael Stamm moved to the Vegas Valley area in the mid-1980’s, it was due to a need for specialty foods.
“I started MGP Specialty Foods in my house out of Las Vegas back in 1999, while still working as a chef, because friends asked where I would get my products for the restaurant. I finally opened the doors officially in 2000,” says Stamm. “I was driving 86,000 miles for 11 months to Los Angeles to pick up products, and then returning to Vegas with deliveries six days a week. MGP was the first local distributor to offer and stock specialty cheeses, fresh truffles, wild fresh mushrooms, fresh foie gras, balsamic vinegars and olive oils.”
But prior to his 20-year history of distributing more than 300 domestic and imported cheeses through MGP, Stamm started his food career as a trained chef in Germany.
“When I was a kid, my dad and I would hike the Alps, taking a week in Austria or on the Italian side of Switzerland during the summer,” he recalls. “At that time, they were still making cheese up in the mountains. We’d spend the night up there in the hay, and in the morning help the farmers milk cows and sheep. That was my start in the food industry.”
Stamm first came to America for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. At that time, he worked in a restaurant that was feeding German athletes and coaches.
“I was 24 years old and thought the weather was great. Restaurants were opening and getting better and better, so I stayed,” he says.
From Los Angeles, he moved to Mammoth Lakes, CA, serving as chef at a Swiss restaurant for a year and a half. He first came to Vegas in 1986, working at restaurants at the Desert Inn, Mirage and Monte Carlo, creating lasting friendships and business connections that still exist today.
“It was in 1999 when I realized I couldn’t do the chef thing anymore; I was burnt out,” Stamm says. “I then called a friend to help me start a specialty gourmet food distribution company. He looked at me quietly, and I knew he thought I was stupid for doing that.”
Stamm started MGP Specialty Foods with only $5,000 and two credit cards, plus a line of credit that his supplier extended to him.
“I recently saw one of my original delivery drivers, and we were reminiscing recently about having to drive the forklift full of products through swing doors,” Stamm says.
Staying the Course
There were challenges along the way, and Stamm stayed nimble and pivoted when necessary.
For example, when European cheeses became more expensive in 2003, he researched, then added, domestic cheeses to his offerings.
“I went to the American Cheese Society event in Portland, OR in 2003, which led me to expand our domestic cheese program,” Stamm says. “As a result, we brought in cheeses from Cypress Grove, Redwood Hill and Point Reyes. We also went to Three Sisters near Modesto, CA. There was a young lady there who was only 19 or 20 who made Parmesan-style cheese. We ordered from her until she closed her plant, but we had fun visiting prior to that.”
“Now we’re distributors for Cowgirl Creamery in Vegas,” he says. “Peggy [Smith] and Sue [Conley] are amazing. It took me 12 years to persuade them to let me distribute their cheese here.”
Expanding & Diversifying
Due to higher demand, the warehouse moved in 2006 to a 10,000-square-foot space in a much better area. When the economy tanked a year later, Stamm utilized unneeded space, creating a demo room for tastings. It was four years ago that Stamm transitioned more unused warehouse space and opened his cheese and charcuterie shop, Cured & Whey.
“Prior to this, so many chefs sent us customers to pick up cheese for them personally,” he says. “Since I couldn’t slice meats, we created a second company, took the demo room and turned it into a cheese and charcuterie shop.”
Because it is part of the warehouse, albeit with a separate entrance, it adds to the efficiencies. Stamm and his staff can run back and grab whatever’s needed right off the shelf. The store started with roughly 300 to 400 square feet, until a break room next door added an extra 200 square feet to accommodate the square footage needed for wine and beer.
“We age Grana Padano to 24 months, then grate it,” Stamm says. “We break wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana, Comte and Beaufort. Chefs know they’re getting fresh products.”
Cured & Whey’s custom-made cheese and charcuterie boards and spreads are popular and sought out. These are offered for less than five, between five and 10, 10 to 25 and over 25 guests with cheese and charcuterie, just cheese or only meat or even vegetarian. Its signature pretzel boards consist of a large Bavarian pretzel creatively stuffed with charcuterie board items. Decadent truffle boards also are available.
“We’ll also go to customers’ homes, take a kitchen counter or table and make custom spreads for the holidays, graduations and other events, Stamm says.
Its shop includes a 24-seat restaurant, and the menu showcases its cheese and charcuterie offerings. Most popular is the Duck Reuben with Hudson Valley Duck ham, Swiss, sauerkraut and house sauce; in addition to the Truffle Honey Grilled Cheese made with Brie, mozzarella, Savini truffle sauce, honey and white truffle salt; and the Cuban, with roasted Porchetta, Jambon De Paris, Swiss, Dijon, house made mojo sauce, bread and butter pickles. Italian ciabatta bread is featured.
“In the deli, we can showcase producers whose products we distribute,” says Stamm. “We also can accommodate those with food allergies.”
In addition, Cured & Whey offers a choice of three salads, including a Greek style with spring mix, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, kalamata olives, sheep/goat feta and herb vinaigrette; a Caprese salad with arugula, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, house-made pesto, roasted tomato vinaigrette and balsamic; and a seasonal salad, which at press time was prosciutto salad with watermelon and feta.
Prior to the pandemic, Cured and Whey offered private two-hour nightly cheese and charcuterie classes to educate customers on cheeses and meats and the producers. It has now pivoted to virtual classes, which have ranged from 40 to as many as 200 people at one time who are located all over the West Coast. It also recently held a product class for a staff of 70 from a local government agency as part of its outreach.
“We’ve adapted our business model to what’s going on and to reach as many people as possible,” Stamm says. “Customers can still come in and have a sandwich or salad; we have seating for 12 now [due to the COVID mandate]. We’re still selling a lot of sandwiches and charcuterie boards, and we’re doing tasting platters. We also sell wine and beer while dining in or with their basket/kit order.”
Two years ago, with his shop and foodservice operation booming, Stamm hired Brian Mosko to assist in running MGP Specialty Foods. “We always joke that we needed overnight computer work done and he never left; now he has his own office,” says Stamm. “It has made a huge difference in terms of the shop, warehouse and virtual events. People are put into your life for a reason, and I’m humbled by that.”
Although Mosko says he takes zero credit for the cheese and charcuterie boards, he is the one who manages Cured & Whey’s Instagram account, @curedandwhey.
“Our staff puts together some of the best boards in the country, and it’s evident based on the comments we get,” Mosko says.
A big part of Cured & Whey’s success is the staff.
“We are blessed to have such talented and hard working people in the shop,” says Stamm.
The relationships its staff has cultivated with its customers has made for some Instagram-worthy moments.
Stamm says the motto for the shop is “come as a stranger and leave as family and friends”, typical European hospitality.
“We have inside jokes with many of our customers, and one is a hostess at a local French restaurant, who we joke with about her bad driving,” Mosko says. “Another customer gave us a heads up that her boyfriend was coming in and asked us to make him dance for his charcuterie order, so we did and posted it on Instagram. We are a part of baby showers, weddings and other celebrations where the customer asks us to stay and be a part of it. That’s the amazing relationship we have with our customers.”
Stamm also attributes the success of his business to his wife, Cathy, to whom he’s been married for seven years and has been working with for almost 10 years.
“We’re together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and people are amazed that we can spend so much time together,” he says.
Stamm has adapted as needed during the Great Recession and now the pandemic and continues to do so in looking toward the future.
“We have plans to expand, as I’d like to open one or two more shops locally in Vegas,” says Stamm. “We’re also involved with a food hall that’s being built and have chefs coming over to talk about different ideas. We’d open a small shop there where people can buy cheese and charcuterie to go or eat on site. I’d also love to get a cheese truck at some point.”
Currently, Cured & Whey is assisting local wine shops struggling to stay open due to COVID mandates by supplying them with small cheese and charcuterie plates or even retail cheese and salami. By being nimble and diversifying, Cured & Whey continues its success story, with more chapters yet to be written.