If a resident has tried to buy Comte Grand Cru or Grey Owl cheese, they know these two highly desirable cheeses are not readily found anywhere on the Westside – or even in Southern California. That changed September 3 when Kurt Gurdal opened a bodega/cheese shop in the Canyon.
Kurt & Whey is his first brick and mortal location. Even though the space is small, the store carries a wide assortment of “must” have sustainable grocery products, such as eggs, berries, Morra frozen pizzas, chicken (from Autonomy Farms) and even Peads & Barnetts Bacon (Sand Diego) – and of course – cheese.
“It was great,” Gurdal said about his opening day. “The community was really welcoming and happy to have something local.”
Even as Gurdal spoke, another resident came in and instantly found chocolate and some noodles. “I’m so psyched,” the customer said about the new shop.
Gurdal’s parents first store in Cambridge “was all about the neighborhood,” Gurdal said. When he was introduced to Frank Langen in November, the two hit it off immediately, because “Frank is all about community.”
Generally, Langen has an artist in that space, but since no one was booked, Langen said, “Why don’t we try it out?”
Gurdal is the son of Turkish Olympic volleyball player Ihsan Gurdal, who moved to California to learn English while playing volleyball at a community college. When his coach went to U.C. Berkeley, Ihsan did too. In 1982, Ihsan moved to Cambridge and coached at Harvard for a time before working at Formaggio Kitchen, and in 1992, took over ownership.
Gurdal’s favorite school lunch was a salami and conte cheese on a thin baguette. Surrounded by children with Lunchables and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, no one wanted to switch until “I gave them a bite and they’d say, ‘give me one of those.’”
“That [conte] was one of my favorite cheeses growing up,” he said, noting that in his house breakfast usually started with goat cheese on toast and coffee. If people were still hungry it would be followed by eggs.
Gurdal came out to UC Irvine to play volleyball, while majoring in computer science. He also played in tournaments in Orange County. “I love the sport,” he said. He completed his degree in economics in 2005.
He went back to the East Coast and worked in the family business, which works with single producers, specialty foods and sustainability.
Formaggio Kitchen is now in four locations: two in Cambridge, one in Boston and one in New York City. It was named a culinary destination among the 50 greatest food stores in the world, according to the Financial Times.
While on the East Coast, Gurdal was sent to work at Neal’s Yard Diary in London, one of the top cheese shops in Great Britain. “It was cool, we only worked with British Isle cheeses,” he said. He returned to the East Coast, where he eventually became a general manager at Formaggio Kitchen.
But the lure of California provided too great, and he began his career here in the Brentwood Mart at the FarmShop.
As Gurdal was carrying a customer’s purchases to the car, they struck up a conversation, and he was soon introduced to her sister, who lived in Rustic Canyon.
The conversation led to Langden, and now Gurdal’s store is now part of another small community, that reminds him of where he grew up.
He continues to “support small farms,” and feels his job is “to communicate the difference” between that food and regular supermarket fare.
For special events he will put together cheese trays, crudité, sandwich platters or appetizers.
The store is located at 169 W. Channel Road, (310) 592-4196 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s note: Gurdal does have Comte Grand Cru and Grey Owl cheese in stock. CTN purchased the Grand Cru to try. The taste is smooth and pleasant and slightly salty. The cheese is firm. Gurdal has also promised to order cheese curds – another favorite of this editor.)
What a great fit for the Canyon. Comte is absolutely delicious. One of my favorites. The local honey is a nice surprise !