Kaley Rector is the founder of The Cheese Collaborative, her culinary side hustle creating custom charcuterie boards for clients in the New York City area. Learn about Kaley’s entrepreneurial journey below. It’s one of passion, creativity, good food, and the perfect party ice breaker.
Tell us about The Cheese Collaborative.
I founded The Cheese Collaborative to create beautiful charcuterie boards for people in the New York City area to gather around at home and events. They serve as a centerpiece for community and conversation. The boards I create are custom made for each event, tailored to the theme, and feature local brands in ways that really show off the products and foods.
How did you get started with your venture?
After years of building up a friend group in NYC, I started to host gatherings in my apartment and gather at other friends’ homes more and more. Over time, I realized I was making charcuterie boards for every gathering, and they became art pieces and conversation starters every time. I have always been very creative and passionate about food but struggled to find a way to express this as I got older.
However, in making charcuterie boards for my friends, family, and friends of friends, I found a sense of passion and excitement again. I was able to get creative, explore my community and the state of New York through food and was able to start creating beautiful pieces of food and art that I was excited to put in front of others. And I loved how it got conversations going and would remove any awkward moments that kick off a party or gathering with people who don’t really know each other.
At what point did you realize that you could start a business?
After about a year of many charcuterie boards and many events with themed boards (30th birthdays, Bachelor TV watch parties, etc.), I realized this was something I really loved and wanted to do more of throughout NYC. I don’t think I really had the confidence to kick it off though until I became part of Luminary’s x Verizon’s Small Business Bootcamp series, where I really put my ideas and strategy to the test. That was only months ago!
Editor’s Note: Luminary is a global, membership-based professional education and networking platform. You can learn more about it at www.weareluminary.com.
How do you define success for your creative business?
Success for me right now is about the exposure—being able to provide boards for events and people or audiences I haven’t been exposed to before. It’s getting to create grazing tables for 100-person events, or a Mother’s Day board for a family, or a customized 30th birthday board for someone. It’s bringing good food, incredible local brands, and good conversation to light.
It’s hearing someone say at an event, this is art, and feeling validated that art can mean so many things aside from just artwork on the wall.
Where do you find inspiration?
I often find inspiration for my boards at greenmarkets throughout the city and seeing local farm stands from New York and New Jersey with the incredible cheeses and goods they produce. Inspiration also tends to spark for me when I see fresh produce and flowers. How can you not find a spread of scallions or a bed of tulips eye-catching?
Instagram is another place I feel inspiration on a daily basis. Simply following small—and not so small—local brands that are creating jams and crackers and honey throughout New York gives me such excitement for future boards and new pairings I can put together.
What’s one piece of advice you wish someone gave you when you first started your creative business?
Get comfortable with the idea that it may take a while to get your business off the ground especially if you have another full time job outside of it, and that’s okay! Put in the time and research and dedication. Stick with your idea and your goals. Let your mind grow over the time it takes to get your business started; it may even be better than you planned since you’ve had time to expand on the idea and grow with it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin selling their artisanal food?
Know your audience (or audiences). This is so vital to understanding who is willing to buy your product, marketing strategies, what you’re solving your product, etc.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I love learning new things! Within the past year, I started learning Italian and also kicked off getting a wine education certification with The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
Editor’s Note: WSET provides education and qualifications in wines, spirits and sake. You can learn more at www.wsetglobal.com.
As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our products. How do you handle perfectionism?
I have to be gentle with myself because I relate to perfectionism a bit too much. I have to continuously remind myself that even when I create something that didn’t turn out “exactly” how I wanted, it still allowed me to try new methods or techniques, and visualize the end result. Then, I use it as a learning experience. What to do or not to do next time.
What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?
How much there is to do. Every little thing that pops up along the way that you don’t think about. Invoicing, payment methods, branding materials, QR codes, product sourcing, marketing, email management. I knew running a business would entail all the work of the business, but it’s funny how things come up and you realize wow, I don’t know how I didn’t expect this one.
Running a business brings joys and challenges. What advice would you give to someone about handling the highs and lows?
Look at every day as a new day. You may (will) have tough days. You may (will) have days where you feel like you didn’t succeed, or you ran into major challenges, or something is taking so much longer than you planned. But, use the next day as a new beginning, a new way to look at a challenge or problem, and just a new day with a new outlook.
Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?
I’ve had a lot of “no’s” in terms of pricing. But, what’s important is sticking to your gut and doing the research to feel confident in what you’re putting out there. Had I not done the competitor research and market research beforehand to know what I needed to price my products at, I would have been more likely to give in and take a loss in that stage of my business. I took the no’s with some sadness and disappointment, of course, but I stuck with it and kept pushing, and am now at a place where I feel so much more confident in what I’ve decided and in the work I’m producing.
What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?
The Food Bank for New York City. This is an organization I feel is actively and tangibly making a difference in the city. All over the city they have food pantries, offer assistance on SNAP benefit enrollment, offer monthly food kits for those in need, and also place priority on collecting and donating female personal care items. This organization is so important in my opinion because there are so many people in need in New York, and this is a way to provide food and assistance to those who need it most. Helping someone who is hungry and needs a little assistance allows them to focus on other essential areas—their jobs, families, finding a place to live, etc.
Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Food Bank For New York City at www.foodbanknyc.org.
Can you share the name of a supplier or vendor that you use for your business that you just love—one that makes running a business a bit easier?
VistaPrint has made producing branded materials such a good experience for me. My favorite product so far are stickers with The Cheese Collab logo on them for my to-go charcuterie boxes.
Editor’s Note: You can learn more about VistaPrint, an online printing services company at vistaprint.com.
Thanks, Kaley! You can learn more about The Cheese Collaborative on Instagram.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.