For Jenn Mason, 48, it’s easy being cheesy. She opened Curds & Co. in Brookline in 2017, adding a second location at the Boston Public Market in October. She has a background in publishing and never imagined that she’d operate a cheese shop — until she threw herself a cheese-tasting birthday party and never looked back. Now she and her husband, Matt, enjoy peddling curds to the community. It’s not a tough sell.
“People come in every day and thank us for being here. They’re glad we’re not another bank,” she says. “And people have an inherent love of cheese. They make other things taste good. There are wonderful associations with it. We want to bring happiness and cheese to people.”
What’s the first restaurant that you ever visited in Boston?
Oh, goodness. This was a long time ago. We’re talking 1992. It’s not glamorous, but the first place we went was the food court at Faneuil Hall. I was visiting my husband — he was here for the summer for an internship — and thought: This is a cool city! I have to live here!
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here?
I would like to see employees taken care of better. This would mean, in some cases, fairer wages, nicer bosses, the ability to get them the extras that other professions get, such as 401(k)s, and stuff like that. It’s hard for small businesses to figure that out, and it gets pushed off. It’s hard to get help sometimes, too. Staffing is really an issue. It’s hard to give what you want to be able to give. I know from talking to a lot of other small businesses like mine, it’s about finding time to figure that out when you need to spend the time getting staff. It’s a circular thing. It’s a hard industry to work in, and any time you can take care of the people who take care of your customers, it’s a good thing.
What other restaurants do you visit?
I like to go out with friends and have them pick the restaurants. I feel like I have tunnel vision. I also have two teenagers, and they pick where we go. It depends; sometimes it’s fast food. Sometimes it’s Cheesecake Factory. Our favorite pad Thai is from Rod Dee; we ordered from the Fenway one last night.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants?
I didn’t know I’d work in the industry until 2½ years ago at a party that I threw for myself. For my 45th birthday, I wanted to throw a party. I was pushed by a friend. We hosted 30 people in my home, took out the furniture, and had a wine and cheese tasting. . . . And so the idea of opening a cheese store was born. I’ve always been a cheese lover. Every place we visit, we go on a culinary tour. We try to do it on the first day of the trip so we can learn as much as we can about how real people live. I think eating is the best way to understand people who aren’t just like you.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had?
The worst ones are where it’s so loud that you can’t hear people next to you. I was at a chicken restaurant in New York, a popular, two-level rotisserie place. It was so loud! We were on a balcony and couldn’t hear ourselves talk. The food was fantastic, but I don’t know if I could come back. I’d order out. The acoustics were really bad.
How could the Boston food scene improve?
There’s a pretty high, intimidating tier. People [worry] about expense or if they’ll be dressed right. They stay where they’re comfortable. I don’t know if I have the answer. Maybe it’s having special nights. Being part of restaurant weeks and stuff like that definitely helps. But the average Joe or Jane who isn’t an avid restaurant-goer, I think they’re intimidated by trying new places. It’s expensive to have a bad night.
How has the restaurant scene changed since you first arrived in Boston?
Being able to experience different cultures is my favorite part of living in the city, or near the city. I’ve raised two teenagers who have more exposed palates than mine was, growing up in Michigan. I love being able to try foods from any culture, and the small, little, tiny mom-and-pop places are so friendly. They’re doing “non-intimidating” right. Feeding you makes them happy, and you sense that. It’s been a great thing to experience here. When I go back to Michigan, it’s not the same.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners.
Brave, curious, and kind.
What’s the most overdone trend right now?
I feel like you’re always playing a game of roulette [with delivery services]. Which company will do a good job? It’s ruining the food experience. Three out of every five takeout orders of ours don’t come the way the restaurant wanted to make it. Sushi upside down! I worry about this because we use two services, one for groceries and one for food. I want to make sure, if I’m sending a cheese platter out, it’s not sliding over to the side. I’m always worried about this random person taking it the last mile. It could ruin an experience. Everyone wants to use too many! One place shouldn’t use three. Find out who’s getting your stuff there the best.
What type of restaurant is Boston missing?
A good family restaurant beyond fast-casual, where you want to take your teenagers for a nice, but not break the bank, night out. There’s a hole there. Maybe the problem is that there’s not enough people looking for that. Maybe it’s not a profitable idea. But I struggle as a parent. I ended up at Bertucci’s far too many times.
What are you reading?
I’m not reading anything right now. I’m struggling with having two new places. I spend a lot of time following Brookline town news, getting the pulse of the community: Facebook discussion groups, the Brookline Tab. I’d like to dig into a book right after Christmas.
How’s your commute?
My commute is fantastic. I work two blocks from where I live, and our second location is right on the train line. It’s almost too good. I used to listen to podcasts, and now it takes me seven days of walking to work to get through one podcast! It’s lovely.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again?
I grew up on powdered milk. My family began fostering kids when I was 16, and we couldn’t keep enough fresh milk in the house. I moved out at 18 to go to college and now own a cheese store! My dairy experience has really grown. Powdered milk settles, and you get chunks. I never want to have powdered again!
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant?
New England Soup Factory, They used to have one right at the end of our street. It got flattened. I’d go in the middle of the day with my husband if we had time to spend together, or we’d pick up pints or quarts of lobster bisque when my father-in-law was sick in New Hampshire, and chemo wouldn’t let him eat anything else. It was a gift. Or we’d pick it up and pretend we’d made these great soups when we had people over.
Who was your most memorable customer?
Her first name is Odile. She’s French. She is the kindest human I have ever met. She gets very excited to see us and chats with us. She’s brought us eclairs; she’s just the perfect customer. She gives us as much as we give her. She always asks how we’re doing. She’s really invested in us being here, and not just with her pocketbook. She appreciates us, and it makes us want to find 400 more people just like her. We love our customers. Some are extra special.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be?
I can’t even decide where I want to go for my birthday dinner! I’d want to be in the North End somewhere. I’d end with a Mike’s Pastry — their Florentine cannoli.