The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills has a new location, a new look and a new energy. Owner Dominick DiBartolomeo, also known for his Domenico’s pastas, sauces and spreads, moved the 50-year-old business to a 5,000-plus-square-foot space on Santa Monica Boulevard in July. And this has become one of the city’s most buzzworthy sandwich spots.
With a stacked culinary team that includes chefs Ben Seto (WP24, Mozza Singapore) and Hilary Henderson (Cut, Citrin), The Cheese Store debuted its first sandwich menu after relocating. Guests are now driving from all over the city, including the Eastside and the San Fernando Valley, in the middle of the day for a turkey sandwich. Or a mortadella sandwich. Or a zucchini sandwich. Discerning LA food-industry group chats are sharing photos of and having spirited discussions about these sandwiches. The consensus is clear: These are some of the most delicious, carefully calibrated and expertly proportioned sandwiches in Los Angeles.
While some might associate DiBartolomeo with Italian food, he wanted The Cheese Store’s sandwiches to showcase different European and American influences. He uses airy, crunchy pan de cristal. There’s a perfect Cheese Store club with house-roasted turkey, difference-making Nueske’s bacon and herbed mayonnaise. Tuna is poached in olive oil on-site for the bocadillo de atún, which gets some terrific zing from pickled peppers. There’s the habit-forming la zucca vegetarian sandwich with fried zucchini, basil pesto, ricotta and lemon artichoke tapenade. But, yes, there are also standard-setting Italian sandwiches (like the Dom with 24-month prosciutto di Parma, burrata and sun-dried tomatoes, and the Francesca with mortadella, provolone and spicy stuffed peppers), if that’s what you’re craving.
The sandwiches are just the beginning of DiBartolomeo’s big plans at The Cheese Store. He’s applying for a license that will allow him to serve beer and wine outside. Essentially, he wants to create a patio wine bar with sandwiches, salads and charcuterie-and-cheese boards.
“Then I’ll probably do theme nights like a pasta night,” says DiBartolomeo, who supplies pasta to essential LA restaurants like Joan’s on Third and Pizzana. “Then we’ll do a barbecue. We’ll do some collaboration.”
In many ways, DiBartolomeo, who worked at The Cheese Store for two decades before purchasing the shop from long-time mentor Norbert Wabnig, has long been collaborating with LA’s most formidable restaurants. One thing that makes DiBartolomeo proud is how chefs like Providence’s Michael Cimarusti and Republique’s Walter Manzke have been inspired by ingredients they discovered at The Cheese Store.
And now DiBartolomeo wants to bring these specialty items to a wider audience. Over the years, The Cheese Store received numerous catering requests it was unable to fulfill out of its previous location. But now that DiBartolomeo has a larger space with a state-of-the-art kitchen, he and his experienced team (which also includes sommelier Erik Kelley) are looking at catering off-site and also in The Cheese Store’s private cellar and storefront level.
DiBartolomeo is also looking at expanding to other locations around Los Angeles and beyond while working on consumer-packaged goods. It helps that he has industry veterans like Mendocino Farms co-founder Mario Del Pero and Sun Harvest Salt founder Ramona Capello as board members.
It still excites him when he finds treasures like Pecorino that’s infused with wild fennel pollen (which Spago and Best Best are serving) or Calabrian peppers that aren’t spicy or Sicilian anchovies or the beautiful nickel-sized wild artichokes that blew Manzke’s mind.
“I’m like, ‘Chef, I know these are really expensive,’” DiBartolomeo says, recalling the discussion he had with Manzke about the artichokes. “But he’s like, ‘Dom, these are unbelievable.’ He built a fish dish around it. We’re very lucky. We have great relationships that have been going on forever. It’s fun stuff, and I love it. This is not work. This is fun.”
DiBartolomeo, for example, loves that his job allows him to travel.
“We’re not just focusing on Italy,” he says. “We’re focusing on France and Spain and Germany, too. I’m going to Germany in a few weeks to check out a couple producers.”
But to be clear, the work that happens when he’s at The Cheese Store is extensive. The R&D process for the shop’s sandwiches took about nine months.
“I lean on Ben and Hilary a lot,” DiBartolomeo says. “They’re the culinary geniuses.”
But a lot of the sandwiches have DiBartolomeo signatures, of course. The Dom features the sun-dried tomatoes that were the first Domenico’s product he ever made.
He credits Wabnig with giving him the freedom to create his Domenico’s business while at The Cheese Store. What’s happening now is a culmination of a career that began more than 20 years ago, when DiBartolomeo worked at The Cheese Store on weekdays while also working at Bristol Farms on the weekend. The Cheese Store has become his life. It’s where he met his wife. It’s where he got engaged.
When DiBartolomeo moved from New York to Los Angeles, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He went to USC and studied jazz guitar with a pre-med minor. And then he realized that he could fulfill his creative ambitions by working in food.
“My parents are from Italy,” says DiBartolomeo, who was raised in Staten Island. “When you grow up in an Italian family, food is everywhere. I just always loved it. I made wine and salamis. I really wanted to follow what my true passion is.”
He fell in love with The Cheese Store because it reminded him of New York, where you might make separate stops at a cheesemonger, a butcher, a fishmonger and a produce stand on your way home. And then he bonded with Wabnig, who, as it turns out, is also a guitar aficionado. There were a bunch of guitars and Beatles posters upstairs at the original Cheese Store.
“The first night after I finished work, we went upstairs and we jammed,” says DiBartolomeo, who realized that he had found the place where he belonged.
All these years later, he’s still riffing in a new space bursting with cheese and truffles and caviar and wine and some excellent sandwiches.