It's always exciting to meet people who have bravely given up "real jobs" to fulfill their passions after years of thinking and planning. John Bennett and Hans-Erich Vogel are two such people.
They recently opened Vin Goat, the cleverly-dubbed wine and cheese boutique on East Coast Highway in Corona del Mar. Their shop features artisanal products from small suppliers worldwide: cheeses, charcuterie, gourmet pantry items and wine (as soon as their license comes through).
And what is cheese without bread? Vin Goat's beautiful loaves arrive daily from Sadie Rose in San Diego.
Bennett's career was in the high-tech industry, but his passion for food began in boyhood. His mother was a great cook and baker. Even at the tender age of four, he loved to watch her in the kitchen.
As he got older, he enjoyed helping mom cook but his favorite activity was baking. At 20, he spent a year in France's Bordeaux region, where he discovered the pleasures of French cuisine and the joys of fine cheese beyond the cheddar, Swiss and Velveeta of his Midwestern childhood. Eventually, after years in the business world, he wanted to do something that involved food.
Vogel grew up in Irvine with a mother, who was also a good cook, and a German father who foraged Orange County for German sausages, cheese and dense brown bread. Vogel's love of food brought him into the restaurant business, first as a waiter, then as a manager of BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse.
Thinking it was time for a "real job," he went into marketing and advertising. But, like Bennett, he hoped some day to get back into food.
Five years ago on Memorial Day, the two friends sat drinking sangria and commiserating about their jobs. They bounced around some ideas and asked themselves what the community needed. They dreamed of a small neighborhood food shop, something that you might find on the streets of Paris.
Vogel, who lived in Corona del Mar, sensed that the community there felt "just right." They devised a business plan but, before implementing it, the economy went sour and they had to put the project on hold.
In the meantime, Bennett went to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Napa and received a certificate in Baking and Pastry Arts. He then worked at the prestigious Bouchon Bakery and Mustards Grill.
Two years ago, they decided to revisit the idea of opening their dream business.
"This is our passion, this is our love and there is never a perfect time," Bennett had said.
Vogel continued to work but then quit to attend the cheese monger program at the Cheese School of San Francisco. Bennett temporarily returned to his high-tech job in order to finance the business. They took a leap of faith, and spent a year and a half putting it all together.
Cheese is the shop's main focus as well as everything that goes with it: jams, chutneys, honeys, olive oils, vinegars, finishing salts, crackers, nuts, dried fruits and, of course, the bread.
We were quite impressed with the black truffle salt that had a deep, heady aroma and we adored the Abbaye de Belloc Basque sheep cheese. The shop sells some charcuterie now but the selection will expand shortly. Bennett and Vogel are eagerly awaiting a liquor license so they can begin to sell wine. Cheese classes also are coming soon.
Vogel oversees the shop's selection of 110 cheeses but their goal is to increase it to 200 cheeses, priced anywhere from $8 to $60 per pound for a cheese aged for 12 years.
Vin Goat is a must visit.
If You Go
What: Vin Goat
Where: 3326 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar
When: Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Information: (949) 673-2200; http://www.vingoat.com