It’s late August, and I’m doing a phone interview with Euphoric Cheese Shop co-owners and Michigan natives Amy Burritt and Cheri Intveld. I’ve just confessed to them that despite my 20-plus years as a journalist, I’m not sure how to take running a specialty cheese shop and battling breast cancer and work them into the same article.
“I don’t know how to make these two things intersect,” I say.
Amy laughs, then replies, “We didn’t see these two things intersecting, but here we are.”
“During a pandemic, no less!” I add.
“Right! During a pandemic," she says. "It’s a trifecta.”
Trifecta indeed. The timeline is worth noting here. Amy left her marketing job in May 2020 and started daydreaming about what might be next. Her parents are long-time specialty food shop owners, so the seed for that profession was planted years ago. She and Cheri, long-time friend and business partner, brainstormed the idea and agreed that, yes, they did want to open and run a specialty cheese shop in Farragut. That was July 2020.
Then Amy, 37, found a lump in her breast and, at Cheri’s urging, went for a mammogram. By August, one month after deciding on what would become Euphoric Cheese Shop, Amy underwent a double mastectomy.
Undeterred, the women signed their rental lease in November 2020 and opened in February 2021. Then, on April 1, Cheri went for a mammogram as a follow-up to a lump she found in her breast. The irony of the date isn’t lost on her.
“I did a self-exam in the fall and didn’t think anything of it. I mean, it couldn’t be cancer. Amy just had cancer. The likelihood —” Cheri pauses. “I thought, ‘How could this be cancer? What are the odds?””
The odds weren’t in her favor. Two months after opening Euphoric Cheese Shop, and eight months after Amy’s double mastectomy, amid a pandemic, Cheri was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, the kind that requires another type of trifecta: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. To date, Cheri is about three-quarters of the way through chemo and starting to think about surgery.
And yet, they are also thinking about cheese.
“I don’t know if this translates to other people, but we have a strange mantra — cheese, cancer, cheese, cancer. We’re both still working. We’re ordering wheels of cheese in between treatments,” says Amy. “We always talked about opening a business, and we were amazed that in that first month we had loyal customers right away. We had people who’d come every Friday night and get a charcuterie board because that became their new tradition. It was touching to be welcomed so quickly and warmly, and it went to a whole new level when Cheri was diagnosed.”
They haven’t shied away from sharing their individual and collective stories about breast cancer, even as they help new customers pick and choose from their 75 (to 100) types of cheeses in the shop.
“The support has been amazing. Every week, if not every day, someone comes in and asks how she’s doing,” says Amy. “We announced it on our social media and people started bringing in gifts. We’ve been floored.”
Euphoric Cheese is that kind of place though, where the casual customer can peruse, ask questions, and sample a few things while also checking in on the health of the owners. This is what it means to be a neighborhood shop, where relationships are created and trust is built. What begins with a question about different types of Swiss cheese can lead to leaving handwritten notes of encouragement in a box at the checkout counter.
“When someone walks in and they’re overwhelmed, we start asking questions. If they say they like a sharp cheddar, then they can handle certain flavors. We offer samples so see if we’re going in the right direction,” says Amy. “It’s a service that we provide to help people figure out what they enjoy but also develop the vocabulary to use so they can say what they like.”
Other folks may have put off the opening of a business during a pandemic and certainly during two cancer diagnoses, but that wasn’t what Amy and Cheri had in mind.
“I think once we felt at peace about the idea and the timeline, we just wanted to keep moving forward. And in some ways, being able to work on the shop was a great way to focus my energy on something other than cancer,” says Amy. “In fact, building the wooden shelves that we use to display products in our shop was a good form of physical therapy for me.”
On Saturday, October 16, Amy and Cheri will be donating 20 percent of all sales and tips to Breast Connect, a local nonprofit that provides resources and support to women in the area who are battling breast cancer. Breast Connect has been hugely beneficial to both women over the last year. Euphoric Cheese Shop is located in Farragut off Kingston Pike in The West End shopping center (behind Buddy’s BBQ). Learn more at EuphoricCheese.com.