One of the most notable local success stories in recent years is the emergence of The Rind, the cheese-focused eatery in midtown that blossomed from cool idea to bustling reality in a matter of months. People really love the place – the ambiance, its owners, the small staff and, of course, the wonderful selection of cheese served in straightforward or deliciously edgy ways (like the blue cheese cheesecake).
The business is owned by the husband and wife team of Sara Arbabian and Steve Tatterson, both of whom had little-to-no food and hospitality experience when they opened in the 1800 block of L Street in May 2013. Arbabian, the cheesemonger and main driver of the business, left her human resources management job to pursue this dream. The Rind has been a big hit, in part because of the couple’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the products they feature. She’s really into cheese. And he, it turns out, is deep into beer.
That’s right, if you’re looking for a smart new beer experience, perhaps you’ve overlooked The Rind, assuming it was more about wine and cheese. While The Rind’s compact and affordable wine list is impressive, so is its inventory of beer. The selection changes often, includes six beers on draft, plenty in the bottles. The staff of 20 includes, among others, a Level 1 cicerone and a serious home brewer. They’re all adept at talking about beer in a way that’s fun and engaging.
“I’ve always been a huge beer fan. Beer is my favorite flavor,” Tatterson said with a laugh. “It’s extremely fun for me. I enjoy wine as well, but I’m primarily into beer. Beer was the little aspect of the business where it could be me. Then I had to throw that out and realize, ‘OK, what do the customers want?’”
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Three months after opening, The Rind was thriving, and Tatterson decided to leave his job working with foreign exchange software for a German company to work there full time. Since then, he has become a bona fide beer expert and has curated a selection that stands out from other beer-centric eateries.
Which cheese goes with which beer? And why? Ask, and be prepared for an answer that will upgrade your beer knowledge.
“Honestly, beer as a general rule goes a little bit easier with cheese (compared to wine),” Tatterson told me. “Primarily, the carbonation in beer helps with cheese because the carbonation is going to help lift the fats off your palate and cleanse your palate between bites.”
For such a small joint, The Rind manages to have a selection that doesn’t skimp.
“I want balance in my beer list,” Tatterson said. “My taps are balanced with a light beer like a lager or blond or pilsner; a light Belgian like a saison or pale ale; a dark Belgian like a quad or a triple; an IPA or double IPA; and I always carry a sour; and then a cider (in the summer) or a porter/stout when it’s cold. Then I have an extensive bottle list that fills in the gaps.”
“We don’t get a lot of people in here who have a significant cheese background. We were the first cheese-based business in Sacramento. It was our job to educate and help them branch out to something they may have never heard of. Same with beer.”
The Rind’s sense of exploration and engagement shines through in the beer list.
“I think one of the reasons we do well is I don’t carry the same beer twice,” Tatterson added. “I buy a keg and then I buy something else. Our customers really like it. People come in here and are willing to explore the cheese. I want them to explore with beer, too, so if everyone is carrying it, I won’t buy it. If I want someone to come in and love this place, I should give them a reason to.”
The owners realized from the outset that the business’s diverse cheese, beer and wine offerings required they find employees who were smart and enthusiastic. Candidates went though four interviews and a tasting before they made the cut.
“For the last interview, we set up a flight of wine, beer and cheese, and what we really focused on as we asked the interview questions was how they were responding to the experience of what our business was,” he said. “The ones that really got into it and were really geeking out about it – ‘Oh this is so good; did you try this one?’ – they all work here.”
For the beer lover, a visit to The Rind can be a chance to calibrate your palate and, since both cheese and beer have so much nuance and range, immerse yourself in seeking out great pairings.
Said Tatterson, “One of the most intriguing pairings that we found – and we kind of stumbled into it – is a sour and a triple cream brie. We were tasting beers and cheeses. I had Sara taste the beer. She’s not a big beer fan. She’s learning to get better and better, but her palate is unbelievably spectacular.”
I’ll have that kind of pairing on my radar the next time I drop by The Rind.