By Marian Staresinic
As a Maître Fromager (Cheese Master), Afrim Pristine delivers years of experience in affinage, a practice handed down through the family business, Cheese Boutique. Pristine’s cheese epiphany was realized when discovering how much more brilliant eating cheese could be at its maturation peak.
“I continually strive to sell the best product possible, to showcase the world’s small, rich, pungent pieces of art,” he said.
What are some of the challenges you face working in food retail?
In my opinion, one of the toughest challenges of working in food retail is to be consistent and to manage people. I never want to hear how great we are or how hard we work, I want to know where we can improve and how we can get better. You are only as good as the last piece of cheese you sold.
Another challenge is to get the most out of your team. We now employ about 80 staff and everyone is different and unique, and I believe you have to treat everyone a little different. People have certain skills and you want to utilize those skills as much as possible. Cheese Boutique is not one person, it is a group of people who are passionate about quality food and great service. I can’t do my job without my staff who have been good to us for many years. You can teach someone about all things cheese, but you can’t teach them a good attitude. The goal in this business is to surround yourself with people who love what they do. Sounds simple, but in my opinion this is one of the greatest challenges.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received from a mentor?
My father, who is my boss and mentor, has given me a lifetime’s worth of key advice, in terms of business and life in general. It’s hard to pinpoint one or two things but essentially, that great products and great service are timeless. There are many trends and fads in the food industry, but quality will always sell, no matter the price. This has been ingrained into me, my family and my staff from my father. My father is the smartest and most hard working person I’ve ever met.
What do you think is special about owning a gourmet cheese boutique in Toronto?
Toronto has been very good to my family and my business. My family and many of my staff come from deep European roots, and Toronto opened up its arms to all of us and allowed us to do something we feel is very special. Toronto is so diverse and vast, and I think Cheese Boutique represents the city very well. We are hard-working, dedicated people who strive to give Torontonians the best products and services possible. We want to grow with the city that has been so good to us for 45 years. Toronto has made my family’s dream come true. We owe a lot to this city, and we are giving back by serving one great piece of cheese at a time.
What advice would you give to new business owners in this industry?
If you plan on opening your own business, be prepared to sacrifice a lot. If you plan on putting your footprint in this industry within our beautiful city, be prepared to hustle, hustle, hustle. Success is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve been doing it for 45 years and are always learning something new. Listen to what the customer wants and never neglect them, as they are the single most important person in this entire equation, and finally, be great to your suppliers and staff. Surround yourself with like-minded people. This is huge. Your vision should travel through to your customers and staff.
What upcoming trends do you see in the food retail industry?
I hate the word trend, as they come and go and always seem gimmicky. I think discovering the foundation of your business and understanding your customer are both very important. Listening to what the customer is looking for, adding your spin on it and giving it to them in your own special way. It’s about delivery and the belief of what you are trying to do, and having the customer understand that. Not just for three months or six months, but forever. To be consistent in what you are doing and what you are trying to achieve should be the trend, not to come up with a one-time great idea that lasts an afternoon. Who cares about that?
To read more about Afrim Pristine’s take on collaborative branding, visit Branding & Buzzing.
About the author:
Marian Staresinic is the Vice President of Branding and Buzzing. She has been in the food business her whole career, beginning at Stratford Chefs School then as a restaurant and cooking school owner, celebrity chef talent manager, AGA Cooker Brand Manager, food editor and the founder of Windsor’s Slow Food chapter.
About Branding & Buzzing:
Branding and Buzzing is a modern food marketing agency that brings the buzz to their clients through engaging consumer conversations, social media and real-life experiences that are inspirational, memorable and most importantly, brand-driven. For more information, visit brandingandbuzzing.com.