2021 People’s Awards

Benjamin Roberts
Cheesemonger in Chief
France 44 Cheese Shop
Minneapolis, MN

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

A. Thirteen years ago, I started out as a cheese shop staff of one with one other person helping out in the kitchen. Fast forward and we now have 55 employees spread over three locations, and we’re in the process of yet another expansion of our kitchen space.

Q. What is your leadership philosophy?

A. Like everyone else, we try and attract thoughtful folks who really embrace the essential nature of hospitality. Autonomy is a reason why good people stay in jobs and so we try hard not to micro or over manage folks. If your employees really understand the mission of your organization then you should be able to get away with utilizing soft power rather than command and control.


Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?

A. Three years into this venture, our cheese sales had begun to flatline. We’d experienced years of growth and then all of a sudden…nothing. Around that time, I spent the day with a cheese visitor from London, and he reminded me that I need to constantly evoke passion for our products. That I needed to be the ever present cheerleader to drive excitement in the business. I’ve been that way ever since.

Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?

A. I have two small children, and they’re more of a priority than the business. That means that I have to hire great talent and do all that I can to make sure they’re happy and thriving. We might sacrifice exponential growth as a business but it allows all of us to maintain the right work/life balance. Our goal is to create an environment where all of our employees can pay their bills and enjoy themselves when they’re not at work.

Q. What technology or technical tools are indispensable to you in the workplace and why?


A. Technology is a blessing and a curse. I love Excel and hammering away at data analysis. In a much more analog way, we are entirely dependent on a cheese wire for cutting cheese rather than a knife.

Q. What have been the biggest changes in the deli industry over the course of your career?

A. Out here in the Midwest there has definitely been a movement towards local foods and supporting the folks in our area. That was a big thing in New York City when I managed a restaurant there, and it took a while but it definitely became a priority for our customers.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome on the job?

A. Well, COVID, of course. Pivoting hard to e-commerce and managing a business during a global pandemic has been incredibly challenging. When I first started, there were two employees in the business and now I have 55 people that I am responsible for keeping employed. Many of those folks don’t have a lifeline if they can’t find work and so I felt an immense amount of pressure to do everything we could to stay open and maintain our revenue levels.

Q. Are you married? If so, how long?

A. My partner and I have been together for 22 years, and she works at a children’s bookstore so our kids are pretty much the luckiest children around. I have a seven-year-old and a four-year-old so I’m chasing after them most of the time. DB

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