Bryan and Margo Brodsky hit a major hurdle mid-pandemic with the Nkuto line of body products they usually sell at farmer’s markets when African shea butter exports screeched to a halt, so they started a completely different business: Smokn Good cheese.
“We had done fairly well with that business, it supports the kids and keeps us going but we were essentially shut down for about four, five months. We thought: ‘where do we go from here?’ and that answer turned out to be smoked cheese,” Bryan Brodsky said.
When he first had the idea to develop a business from what was then a hobby, Bryan started looking around, he said, and realized nobody in Southern California seemed to have a full line of artisanal smoked cheese.
“Even the bigger stores— they have some that are done with liquid smoke in the process, whether that is natural or synthetic but this is different. It takes time and it is a labor of love but the outcome is good,” Bryan Brodsky said.
The Brodsky’s acquired several big smokers with a heat source that burns “mainly Applewood” chips and require steady monitoring to maintain a sweet spot in the temperature where the smoke is chimneyed so the cheese can absorb the flavor without heating up past melting point.
“We learned the hard way that it is difficult to keep it from melting. The first couple of test batches early on, we definitely melted some cheese. You turn your back on it for a minute and there it goes,” Bryan Brodsky said.
The bigger hurdle was navigating legalities of the food business.
“We got all our licenses together a little late for the holidays but we’ve started doing farmer’s markets and smaller events like Vintage Alpine and Casino Inn. The licenses have been the biggest challenge, so much so that I was going to just stop trying to get it up and running.
It was a struggle with California Dairy,” Bryan Brodsky said.
He couldn’t find a commercial kitchen with a dedicated area where the smoke would be tolerated, was required to have his own space for licensing, considered buying a food truck to use as a mobile kitchen “but they shot that down as well as the business is considered a milk product processing plant but the couple eventually received an exemption from the state for use of a shared kitchen.
Selling in different places has also proved challenging with some farmer’s markets like Ocean Beach and Hillcrest requiring a different license to sell out in public.
“Even people I know who are lactose intolerant are like ‘yeah, I paid a price but it was worth it’. Anything you can make with cheese, you can make with smoked cheese. It isn’t magical, like you can only cook it next to a unicorn or something,” Bryan Brodsky said.
“This is kind of my transition from working as a mobile mechanic to something that is still hands-on. We have two teenage boys we’ve put to work with us. They see us working, know we work for ourselves, understand entrepreneurship. My body is not my best friend but I’ve been self-employed for the past 20 years and had the freedom to see the boys grow up every day,” he said.