Though you can certainly score a tasty wedge of manchego or brie at Cheese Shoppe in Southampton Village, non-locals and village newbies are often surprised to learn that the eatery isn’t a traditional cheese store — despite what its name might imply.
The shop is actually an artisanal cafe and gourmet market, explains owner Nikki Cascone-Grossman, who is joining other fantastic food and wine purveyors at this year’s Dan’s Rosé Soirée.
Dan’s Papers Rosé Soirée, a celebration of rosé — the East End’s unofficial summer drink — is kicking off the Twin Forks’ unofficial start of summer on Memorial Day weekend, Sunday, May 28 at the Southampton Arts Center.
We spoke to Cascone-Grossman about her vision for creating Cheese Shoppe, her unique menu, and more in the lead up to this year’s Rosé Soirée.
Nikki Cascone-Grossman Brings Cheese Shoppe to Rosé Soirée
“But we’re definitely not a deli,” she clarifies.
When the veteran restaurateur bought the business in early 2019, one of her first big decisions was what to do about the name. As a longtime customer before she was an owner, Cascone-Grossman thought it was important to pay homage to the Shoppe’s history.
“After a lot of back and forth, we decided not to change the name,” she says. “It’s been around since 1974. There’s something that just works there. People who come to Southampton once a year, or even every five years, they know the Cheese Shoppe.”
Over the years, official permutations of the name included Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe, which was often shortened to Village Cheese Shoppe. Cascone-Grossman didn’t change the name per se, but she did put her own spin on it, which involved a little tweaking, a little streamlining — and a bit of new punctuation.
“We would always just say, ‘we’re going to Cheese Shoppe.’ We wouldn’t say the rest,” she points out. “So it’s Cheese Shoppe. With a period. I get mad when people don’t put in the period. There’s a story behind that stupid dot.”
If Cheese Shoppe, strictly speaking, isn’t actually a cheese shop, no one seems to mind. If, however, you’re jonesing for an artisanal Hamptons breakfast, lunch or beach nosh, you’re going to enjoy spending some quality time at Cheese Shoppe.
Given the tight confines of the Shoppe’s kitchen, the depth, variety and consistent freshness of Cascone-Grossman’s expansive menu borders on the miraculous.
For breakfast, you might sample a few of the owner’s favorites. Try the Danny: two organic eggs with provolone, bacon, arugula and pepper jam on a ciabatta. Or keep it on the healthier side with a classic acai bowl (with homemade granola and peanut butter). You could also try the Southampton: a couple of organic eggs with vegan American cheese, arugula and avocado on health bread.
For more lunch-y fare, particularly in the chillier months, Cascone-Grossman’s homemade seasonal soups are not to be missed. The Shoppe’s current soup menu includes carrot ginger, matzoh ball, squash sweet potato and a robust roasted cauliflower with truffle oil.
In addition to a serious roster of grilled sandwiches (all of which can be customized with varying ingredients), the Mother Earth Bowl is a lunch favorite among the lululemon set. Quinoa, golden beets, sprouts, pumpkin seeds, tomato, carrots, celery, peppers, edamame and avocado combine under a light citrus dressing. As with all the bowls at the Shoppe, the Mother Earth can be goosed with your protein of choice (roast chicken, turkey or poached shrimp).
So how does a menu evolve out of a life story? Born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, Cascone-Grossman was drawn to the world of chic restaurants and fine food from a very young age. After dropping out of high school, she rode the Staten Island ferry to work as a hostess at the then-trendy 150 Wooster restaurant in Soho (which later became the original location of the also-trendy Casa la Femme).
Young, driven and hyper-competent, Cascone-Grossman became an assistant manager and was trained in both front-of-the-house (dining room) and back-of-the-house (kitchen) operations. She excelled at the work, but the intensity of the city restaurant lifestyle began to wear on her.
“There were a lot of late nights, a lot of partying,” she recalls. “Finally I said, ‘you know what, I need to leave this.’”
Eventually, she earned her GED and moved to Atlanta, where she graduated from the School of Culinary Arts and went on to work at a number of upscale restaurants, gaining vital experience as both a working chef and a dining room manager. In order to absorb as much as possible about all aspects of restaurant work, she also trained as a sommelier in the Napa Valley.
After almost nine years in Atlanta, Cascone-Grossman returned to New York City armed with what was becoming a formidable resume. She hadn’t yet turned 30.
Three separate high-profile gigs in the New York restaurant world eventually followed.
Cascone-Grossman scored a position as a manager working on several properties owned and operated by international superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. After that, she was recruited by a hospitality company to help secure the food and beverage contracts for the luxury suites and all the restaurants at the then-newly-rebuilt Yankee Stadium.
After the Yankee Stadium contract ended, Cascone-Grossman became a partner in a gastropub in New York’s Nolita neighborhood. It was also the first time she ran her own kitchen as the head chef of a restaurant.
While working full-time in the restaurant, she landed the first of what would become multiple appearances as a contestant on the legendary cooking show Top Chef.
Cut to 2018. A handful of restaurant ventures had come and gone, and Cascone-Grossman’s professional life had slowed while the responsibilities of her personal life had expanded. Now living full time on Long Island, married with two children and doing occasional consulting work, the woman who had been immersed in the life epicurean in one form or another for three decades was ready for her next act.
Cheese Shoppe. (with a period at the end of the name) reopened under Cascone-Grossman’s ownership and management in early-2019. There were growing pains. There was an international pandemic. There was suspicion, and eventually, acceptance, from the Southampton community. And there were a string of successes, including most recently, a lucrative new contract to supply prepared food on an ongoing basis to the Parrish Art Museum.
Sitting at a cozy inside table at her cafe facing Main Street on an early-spring afternoon, Cascone-Grossman is reflective.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work in the space,” she says. “I’m finally at a comfortable place where I’m not thinking, ‘how can I change things? It flows, it works, we do the volume, there’s enough retail. It was always about finding that balance.”
Visit DansTaste.com for more information and tickets.