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This cheese shop lost 90% of its business overnight. Now what?

A cheese, fruit and cured meat board from Lady & Larder. Lady & Larder has opened a takeout provisions shop called Lady Bodega to keep the business afloat during the coronavirus outbreak. They are also a distribution center for produce boxes.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones/Los Angeles Times)

Weddings, birthday parties, baby showers — the coronavirus outbreak has put many of these celebrations on hold.

It’s bad news for everyone, including the businesses that provide the food and drink at these special events.

Recently I spoke to Sarah Hendrix from Lady & Larder, the cheese and provisions shop known for its photogenic cheese and charcuterie boards and wide selection of cheeses from small domestic creameries.

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As cities across the U.S. began to clamp down on large gatherings last month to curb the spread of the virus, Hendrix watched the canceled orders roll in.

“Our business does primarily events and weddings, and in a 72-hour period we essentially lost all of our business for the next four-plus months,” Hendrix said.

She has been candid about what it was like to watch her business model go under almost overnight. It’s a story many small business owners can relate to.

Sarah Hendrix, left, owner of Lady & Larder, works on an order with Kate Miller.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones/Los Angeles Times)

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“On the night I realized we were going to lose everything, I went home and didn’t go to sleep. I sat in the living room all night and tried to come up with a plan,” she said.

“By the time the sun came up, I realized it wasn’t an option to close our doors.”

Hendrix did what many operators have done in the past weeks: She made a hard, fast pivot, reinventing her business as a retail shop in the span of a few days.

Lady & Larder opened Lady Bodega, a takeout shop selling grab-and-go cheese and fruit boxes, cured meats, local fruit and vegetables, bread, meat, eggs and sundry food items. The shop also rolled out a take-away sandwich and salad menu.

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“In about 24 hours we built an online store,” Hendrix said.

Like other food businesses, the shop also became a hub for produce boxes, working with farms to distribute their fresh fruit and produce.

A produce box from Schaner Farms with navel oranges, blood oranges, lemons, limes, yellow and red onions, garlic, shallots, avocados, spring onions, rainbow beets, eggs and French breakfast radishes. Lady & Larder is a distrubution center for Schaner Farms produce boxes. The contents of the box change every week.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones/Los Angeles Times)

Hendrix, who worked as a private chef before opening Lady & Larder two years ago, has close relationships with many California growers.

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Keeping fruit and produce flowing between farms and customers has been one of her goals during the crisis.

“So many people see restaurants close and they don’t see beyond that,” she said.

“The vegetables don’t stop growing in the fields. It needs somewhere to go. And if farms can’t sell it, they have to lay off the people harvesting it. And then it just gets worse down the road.”

She doesn’t make any money off the produce boxes that people pick up at her shop, but most customers who come for them end up buying some cheese or other items, she said.

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Every day is uncertain, but so far Lady & Larder is surviving.

One thing hasn’t changed: People still want fancy cheese and fresh fruit to mark a special occasion.

“The events have gotten small, but people still want something that brings them joy. We catered a four-person wedding the other day,” Hendrix said with a laugh.

“People are still having birthdays. Babies are still being born. All those big life things are still happening in the midst of all this,” she said.

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“That gives us a lot of hope.”

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Ask the Critics

What are you cooking at home? What’s been your favorite home-cooked meal?

— Laura N., Facebook

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Like everyone else, my husband and I are baking bread (can’t find all-purpose flour or commercial yeast? Check out Ben Mims’ tips for baking without them) and eating an impressive amount of comfort food. The other night my husband made gnocchi for the first time, using this recipe as his template. (We didn’t have sage so we used rosemary instead.) I can’t recommend it enough. Next up: chocolate sheet cake, because life is a little bumpy and an old-fashioned sheet cake makes the ride smoother.

Have a question for the critics?

Email us.

Our stories

Bill Addison put together this terrific roundup of 20 Mexican restaurants doing takeout, and talks through his decision to recommend takeout during the pandemic.

Brian Park reports on how the pandemic and hoarding are drying up vital food supplies to L.A.'s homeless residents.

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— Our cooking editor Genevieve Ko answers a question many people are asking: Should you be scrubbing down your produce with soap?

Amy Scattergood is back from book leave (welcome back, Amy!) and she brought us this wonderful daily bread recipe.

— Learning to make perfect crunchy roast potatoes is a game-changer, and Ben Mims shows you how in this installment of “How to Boil Water.”

Garrett Snyder reports on the prominent chefs calling for greater financial relief for independent restaurants, and the Boyle Heights group helping undocumented workers during the coronavirus crisis.

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— Here are 14 Passover Seder recipes featuring your trusty pantry staples.

— Finally, Lucas Kwan Peterson checks in with 15 chefs and restaurant owners around L.A.

Margarita Motero helps prepare meals at Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. This week, Brian Park reports on how Union Rescue Mission continues to supply hot meals to vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)


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