“How long have you been here?”
Is probably the second most popular question a Riverdel employee gets asked next to:
“Is everything in here vegan?”
As of this week, the answer to that first question is 1 year; we’re celebrating our anniversary Thanksgiving week!
And the answer to that second question has always been: yes.
What, who, how is Riverdel? Here are some answers about your favorite vegan cheese shop!
Owner Michaela Grob was born in Austria--and no, The Sound of Music is not as big of a deal there as it is here. She has lived all over the world, working in hospitality. She moved to New York City almost 12 years ago, and settled in Brooklyn about 8 years ago. She says that of all the places she’s lived, New York was the first to feel instantly like home. She and her new husband, Tim, lived in Boerum HIll initially; but, when they found Prospect Heights, there was no turning back.
“I love this neighborhood and I’m so happy to be able to open a business here.”
We’re happy she’s here, too. And we’re ecstatic that she didn’t just decide to open any old business--she brought to Prospect Heights what there has only been one of in the five boroughs to date: a vegan cheese shop.
Like it does for many of us, New York inspired Michaela to question her social and environmental impact on the world. She decided to go vegetarian almost 8 years ago, and then went full-out vegan more than 5 years ago. She read two articles that changed her perspective on animals and meat. She says that these articles made her question her love of animals: how much could she love them, really, if she were complicit in the way that they’re treated by the food industry?
Two things really got her. One was an article about the myth of humane meat, and learning that even free-range animals suffer, particularly in mass slaughterings. She’d thought that free-range was a good way to justify her carnivorousness. She came to realize that suffering is suffering and that she just couldn’t justify it.
“I’ve always called myself an animal lover; but, how can I say that I love animals if I eat them?”
The other article that really made her mind up was about the intelligence of animals. Michaela and her husband own a dog and a cat (River and Fidel--get it??); when Michaela read that pigs have intelligence comparable to dogs, she was done.
“I wouldn’t eat a dog; so, by that logic, why would I eat a pig?”
A question we wish more people would ask themselves.
She says that the transition was easy. During her journey into vegetarianism, she learned more about the dairy and egg industry, and how they aren’t much better than the meat industry.
“Someone told me once, you vote with your dollar. So, I decided that my dollar will not ‘vote’ for any animal [suffering].”
I like that. It’s an important concept for anything you might be passionate about. Like resisting fascism in the United States or rejecting exploitative labor practices; your dollar is your vote.
Why Vegan Cheese?
I asked Michaela this when she hired me and she said “The thing I missed most when I went vegan was cheese.” I get that. There is nothing quite like cheese in this world.
“When I was little, my dad and I would get this super stinky cheese that my mom wouldn’t even allow us to put in the fridge because it would stink up the whole fridge.”
That is a love of cheese.
She says that the desire to find good vegan cheese wasn’t because she was really missing anything after becoming vegan; instead, it arose from something many of us can relate to: trying to convince skeptics (family, friends, etc) that eating vegan didn’t have to mean eating raw vegetables all day, every day.
She said all she wanted for a while was something she could eat with crackers and a glass of wine. The problem was, the only vegan cheeses were only available online, or you could find one brand at one store and another brand at another store across town.
“I thought how nice it would be if there was a cheese shop with all the vegan cheeses out there!”
She was also tired of her increasingly corporate job. You can really tell when you watch Michaela interact with her customers how much she appreciates an intimacy around her, a friendly social atmosphere. It’s hard to get that in the land of corporations. With her own shop, she’s in charge of the vision, she’s in charge of building something from scratch; and, all the while, she can make new friends and meet new, interesting people every day.
If you didn’t figure this out already, I need you to grab another cup of coffee and wake up a little more. The name Riverdel came from Michaela and Tim’s first rescue dog and cat (they’ve had several of each). The cat was Fidel, the dog was River; so, the shop became “Riverdel.”
We’re a small shop, almost on the corner of Washington Ave and St. Johns Pl. in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. We have cheese, if you couldn’t tell. Some of it we make ourselves--if you ever wondered why we’re closed on Mondays, it’s because that’s cheese-makin’ day. We also feature the best vegan cheeses from the best vegan cheese makers in the country. There’s Cheezehound (my favorite) from upstate; if you don’t try any other cheese in our shop, you have to have Cheezehound’s mozzarella. Then there’s Dr. Cow, who had the first vegan cheese shop in the boroughs by about a year and Miyoko’s which is California’s premier vegan cheese producer.
You can get the mass-produced brands and the hand-wrapped, hand-crafted ones.
We also have house-made nut milks: Cashew, Almond, Coconut, Brazil Nut and our own special coffee creamer. Our cooks get experimental, too, with Golden Milk and Matcha Almond Milk, among others. The Golden Milk is incredible, doesn’t seem like it should be good for you (but it is) and is even good warmed up!
We also carry a variety of vegan meats, usually featuring a selection from the Herbivorous (Vegan) Butcher--at least, until they sell out, which happens quickly.
Then there are our sandwiches. If you want a shop where you can just come in and choose from anything on the menu because it’s all vegan-compliant, Michaela’s shop was made with you in mind. The menu has evolved over the year we’ve been open, just like our stock, which seems to be constantly changing.
The only downside to our shop, as many customers will be sure to point out after a long commute just to get their cheeze fix, is that there’s only one of us.
We’re working on making our exclusivity less exclusive. We’ve added Uber Eats delivery, through which you can get our sandwiches and some of our products. We’ve also partnered with Amazon Prime and will be adding PostMates soon.
And just in time for the holidays, we’ve added party plates and gift boxes. I know that’s going to be a goddess-send to many of our customers; just this week I’ve had a plethora of customers buy our best cheeses in bulk to either contribute to their all-vegan holiday meals, or to try to convince those skeptics I mention above that vegan cheese can be good. Even better, it can be incredible.
If you’re a doubter, we also offer samples to anyone who comes in. We want you to buy our products, but we know vegan cheese can be a risk sometimes; once you try, the only hesitation you’ll have is while you try to decide whether to get this one, or this one. My recommendation: just get both!
Working at Riverdel has given me an opportunity I’ve never had in almost a decade of customer service work. Working in a one-of-a-kind place means that finding us, to some people, is like finding a diamond in the rough. I always compare the first time someone walks through our doors to a toddler walking into a candy-shop. The joy, the amazement, the ADD are all there; they can’t take it all in, but they want to buy it all. It’s amazing to see so many people find a place they’ve been looking for for their entire vegan lives.
We offer a safe space to the food-particular. This includes the vegans, like Michaela, who can’t stand the idea of consuming any kind of product that came from an animal’s suffering. It includes the vegetarians who are sometimes vegan who may be able to make the conversion because we offer so many dairy/meat alternatives. And it includes our saddest customers, the ones who just discovered a dairy allergy despite a lifelong love affair with cheese; they usually perk up once they try the Cheezehound mozzarella!
It’s truly a unique shop and I know I speak for all of us when I say it’s an honor to offer it to our community. It’s been a good year and the next year is looking to be even better.
Coming up, like I mentioned, we’re adding PostMates delivery. This just means that you have options; Riverdel will be readily-available to you without having to make the trek all the time.
We’re also starting an educational series about veganism aimed at bringing the community together and helping it expand. Some of the topics you can look forward to are Vegan & Fashion and Vegan & Endurance Sport.
We’re going to have specials for the Winter Holidays, and I know I heard Michaela talking about making some snacks for the Super Bowl (personally, I’ve already been perfecting my buffalo cauliflower recipe). We’re always looking for new things to try, new specials to offer, and new ways to make being vegan as fun and accessible as possible.
Check out this blog periodically to find out what’s going on, what’s coming up, and even learn something you may not have known about vegans, cheese, and vegan cheese!
Happy Birthday Riverdel! Here’s to year two! Cheers!!