Say cheese: La Jolla Shores shop celebrates 50 years

Cheese Shop in La Jolla Shores opened in 1972.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

From behind his counter at 2165 Avenida de la Playa, Dave Schutz has watched the popularity of his Cheese Shop grow along with the number of tourists to La Jolla Shores.

Schutz, who owns Cheese Shop with his brother Tom, said the store is amid a year-long celebration of its 50 years in business.

Phil Forsberg opened Cheese Shop in 1972 as a specialty cheese and wine shop. Schutz’s father, John, bought it from Forsberg in 1976.

The store sold items to restaurants wholesale and also had a retail section, originally with wine and imported goods and “a couple of sandwiches,” Dave Schutz said.

Cheese Shop co-owner Dave Schutz shows the establishment's popular oatmeal almond cookies.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“My dad … started expanding the menu,” Schutz said. “We kept adding on more and more stuff over the years.”

Now Cheese Shop offers sandwiches, salads, soups, cookies, candy and drinks.

Schutz has been working at the store since he was 12, starting with weekends and summers and taking over with Tom about 20 years ago when John retired.

“We fit a really nice niche at the beach,” he said, noting that sandwiches are easy to toss in a cooler on the way to the sand.

As Schutz has built sandwich after sandwich, he’s observed the conversion of Avenida de la Playa from quiet to bustling.

“The bones of the street are still the same because there’s been no new construction on this block” since the 1960s, he said. “But the vibe of the street and the energy of the street are much different nowadays.”

When the Schutz family began running Cheese Shop, Avenida de la Playa was a quiet residential block with an Indian art gallery, an architect’s office and a bank in the suites now occupied by Sushi Mori and Osteria Romantica, Schutz said.

Across the street, where Piatti now stands, was a German restaurant called The Rheinlander. A travel agency, custom dressmaker and Persian rug store occupied storefronts to the west.

Cheese Shop menus have gone through many transformations over the past five decades.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Schutz has watched his neighboring building convert from an abandoned house to an English tea shop to a pizza shop to a taco shop to Barbarella.

Schutz said “the street really changed” when Mike Luscomb opened La Jolla Kayak 27 years ago. “It [gave] the street the energy that it has today.”

Now there are five such kayak operators on Avenida de la Playa, which Luscomb said see about 1,000 kayakers combined during the day every summer.

Even in the middle of January, dozens of tourists come to kayak, Schutz said.

And those kayakers are hungry, opting for food from one of the many restaurants along the street, including Cheese Shop, which Schutz said puts together close to 400 sandwiches a day in the summer, even though it’s open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The period from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is “crazy busy,” he said.

Not everyone who orders is a tourist. “I get to talk to so many people that have been customers for so many years,” Schutz said. Cheese Shop also fills corporate orders for hundreds of bag lunches when local biotech companies hold events.

Many tourists also are repeat customers. Schutz said people often come in who say “We just checked in; the first stop is Cheese Shop.”

The best part of owning Cheese Shop is talking to people, Schutz said, including visitors from the second or third generations of a family.

“I get people all the time that come in and say, ‘I remember your dad.’”

He said Cheese Shop’s longevity is probably due to its “good, honest, homemade food in a great location. We do all of our own soups from scratch. We cook most of the meats that we use on our sandwiches from scratch. We have homemade potato salad, macaroni and coleslaw.”

The store also bakes its popular flourless oatmeal almond cookies in the shop, to the tune of 80,000 cookies sold each year.

Cheese Shop is poised to be multi-generational itself, with Tom’s son Andrew, who already works at the store, preparing to take over.

That won’t be for a while, though. “I’m not retiring anytime soon,” Schutz said. “I really like doing what I do.” ◆