One of the most famous specialty food retailers in Los Angeles, and one of the first bona fide cheese stores in the country, the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, will be under new ownership for the first time in 44 years. Norbert Wabnig is selling the store to his 20-year employee and friend Dominick DiBartolomeo, who founded a pasta company and met his wife while working for Wabnig. Originally opened in 1967 by Colonel Sigmund Roth, Wabnig took over operations in 1978, leading the small but generously stocked shop tucked into the Golden Triangle that sells perhaps the widest and most impressive variety of cheeses, truffles, caviar, charcuterie, and other gourmet foods in Southern California.
Wabnig and the shop received numerous accolades and media attention over the decades, including a feature in the History Channel, Los Angeles Times, the Strategist, and the New York Times. A big part of the charm of visiting the Cheese Store was talking to Wabnig and getting advice about which cheeses to take home for meals and parties at home. The experience of tasting rare or seasonal cheeses has always been a major reason for making the pilgrimage for Southern California food enthusiasts.
On the transfer of ownership, Wabnig tells Eater via email: “Though cheese is the store’s guiding light, the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills features an ever evolving and expanding array of delicacies from all over the world. For the past 20 years, Dominick has played an integral role in this journey. He understands it, lives it and is dedicated to continuing the legacy of the Cheese Store while evolving it in new and exciting ways.”
DiBartolomeo helped manage the store during a difficult pandemic operation, with sales only available via direct phone order and pickup. Given his age, DiBartolomeo said Wabnig’s family was insistent that he try his best not to work during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to stay safe. “It’s so hard just to be an order taker. Now you can come in and taste again,” says DiBartolomeo, who said the building’s landlord has been generous in helping the longtime small business stay afloat these past few years with concessions and other assistance.
“We have something special. We built an audience. Everybody knows the store, from locals to international visitors. We made it out [of the pandemic] because of our loyal customers and chefs,” says DiBartolomeo, about the struggles of the past few years. Asked about the future of the shop and how it would evolve, DiBartolomeo is high on tinned fish. “We’re going deep in canned fish, with more expansion in olive oils, caviar, and the incredible wines that we carry. My goal with this store is to make it more of what it already is, and better than it already is.”
In addition to taking ownership of the Cheese Store, DiBartolomeo will continue to operate his Italian specialty foods company, Domenico’s Foods, which produces and distributes fresh and dried pastas, sauces, and other pantry items that are sold at local farmer’s markets and other retailers. “I am a steward of this store, and it’s now my chance and time to give back the way it gave to me,” says DiBartolomeo.
The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.