Many things happen by chance. Just ask Yannick Achim. Working in a cheese shop while studying economics at university led Achim to develop a passion for cheese. Today he is the owner of six Quebec cheese stores.
He was only 23 when he bought his first cheese shop in Saint-Jérôme, in the Laurentians, north of Montreal. The business was losing steam and Achim worked for the next five years to make it profitable, under the name Fromagerie Yannick.
“Nobody believed it would work,” he says.
But Achim won his bet and expanded into Montreal in 2000, buying a cheese shop in the trendy Outremont district and then another in 2005. There were now three shops under the Fromagerie Yannick banner. In 2010 he partnered with a Quebec City store, which also adopted the name, and then opened two more locations in the Laurentians.
Now 40, Yannick Achim focuses on variety in his stores, offering more than 450 different cheeses, 125 of which are available on a daily basis. But customer service is what really makes his company stand out. Here, he relies on the skills of his team of about 20 employees.
“In general, the ratio in cheese shops is about 20 per cent full-time employees to 80 per cent part-timers,” Achim says. “We’re the opposite: 90 per cent of our employees work full-time. They are cheese merchants, a term used in Europe. They are there to provide the customers with a shopping experience and give them advice. I’ve even started sending my employees on trips to broaden their knowledge.”
A father of two, Achim works long hours, but that doesn’t matter when you love what you do, he says. Despite his experience, he says he learns something new every day and enjoys travelling around Quebec and in Europe meeting cheese makers and other artisans in the field.
Achim’s reputation extends far beyond Quebec’s borders. He is a member of the American Cheese Society and will serve as a jury member for that organization’s cheese competition again this year. He is also a judge in different European cheese competitions, including the Concours général agricole de Paris, and the Caseus Montanus. In Quebec, he is often sought for his expertise and has taught for six years at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec, an institution devoted to training and research in the hotel, tourism and food-service industries.
Achim called in BDC a few years ago. He was looking for financing to build a storage room for Les meules de Comté, a French AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) cheese. As a result, an annex was added to the company’s head office in the Laurentians. The second floor of the new building serves as a training workshop, making the Saint-Jérôme branch a one-of-a kind cheese operation.
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