When authenticity leads to backlash, with Raleigh Cheesy’s Courtney Bowman

Courtney Bowman literally built Raleigh Cheesy on Instagram and charcuterie boards.  It seemed to blow up over night and continued to gain popularity in the Raleigh area. Part of that is due to Courtney’s presence, humor, and authenticity.  But as she found out, when you’re always authentic, you’re going to offend some people along the way.


Courtney Bowman: I have, like, embraced authenticity and vulnerability I think my whole life. I don’t know how to be a fake person. I can’t do it. I can’t, like, be someone I’m not. And so, in the spirit of that, I tend to overshare, maybe? Or just like, give more honest opinions about things. This is a theme of my life, you know? Um, where I write something that maybe gets misinterpreted.

So like, I mean, this kind of all started cheese boarding because I almost got fired from teaching.

Dana Kadwell: Welcome to Hustle and Gather, a podcast about inspiring the everyday entrepreneur to take the leap. I’m Dana.

Courtney Bowman:  And I’m Courtney

Dana Kadwell: And we are two sisters who love business. On this show, we talk about the ups and downs, the hustle, and the reward at the end of the journey,

Courtney Hopper: And we know all the challenges that come with starting a business. Between operating our wedding venue, doing speaking and consulting, and starting our luxury wedding planning company, we wake up and hustle every day.

Dana Kadwell:  But we love what we do. And today we’re talking with Courtney Bowman about turning her hobby into a hustle. Courtney is the owner of Raleigh Cheesy, which creates custom charcuterie boards in the triangle.

Courtney Hopper: For those of you that are listening, today we are drinking Petite Sirah from Biltmore Estate. You can order the wine, yourself, with the link in our show notes. We are so excited to have you!  Who would have thought?

Courtney Bowman: I know. Who would’ve thought?

Courtney Hopper: Yes. Yeah. So, when and why did you even start making charcuterie boards?

Courtney Bowman: Oh, that’s a great question. So, it all started in the summer of 2019. So, I had felt a little creatively stifled.

I was a middle school teacher for seven years and I’d felt a little creatively stifled, not being able to kind of fulfill that part of my brain. And so, I had seen that a couple of other people had started making these, like, beautiful gourmet charcuterie boards. And my mom was like, “You should really try this, like, for bug’s second birthday.”

My daughter was turning two in July. So, I made my first one, July 2019. And I was like, “This is the best thing ever. It’s so much fun.” And it was, like, combining delicious food, combining art, and I made– just continued to like, make them for friends and family. And by, like, October, I had made four or five. And I was like, “That’s enough to start a business. Right?”

Dana Kadwell: Obviously.

Courtney Bowman: So yeah, clearly. I clearly knew exactly what I was doing. So yeah, October 1st, I was like, I couldn’t find anybody in the triangle who was doing it. So, I wanted to make it obvious where we were located, what we had to do with. Called it “Raleigh Cheesy,” started an Instagram, posted literally every picture I have, and it just took off.

And so, very grateful for the people at the beginning who booked me; having, like, made five boards in my life. And I was like, “Wow, thanks for that trust.”

Dana Kadwell: It’s so true though. Like, you literally blew up overnight.

Courtney Bowman: Yes.

Dana Kadwell: I just remember one time it was like, “Oh, Courtney is making charcuterie boards.” And the next day it’s like, “Have you heard of Raleigh Cheesy?” And I’m like, “Yes, but how do you know about Raleigh Cheesy?”

Courtney Bowman: Yeah, it was very– I was not ready. So yeah, Offline: Raleigh-Durham, they featured me in their email, their weekly email that goes out to like 40,000 people on, like, day two of me having this Instagram. They were like, “Oh, we’re going to put you in our, you know, newsletter.” And so, I started getting all these orders. And they were like, “Oh, let me see your menu. Let me see your pricing sheet.” And I was like, “Yeah, that. I have one of those.” And, “Oh I don’t have any more pictures to post.” Like I had already posted all the pictures I had. So I had to like, get a photo shoot with a friend and– “Fake it ’til you make it,” right?

Courtney Hopper: Right.

Dana Kadwell: Absolutely. Totally.

Courtney Hopper: So, Raleigh Cheesy, isn’t the name a pun on “Really Cheesy?”

Courtney Bowman: Yes. I knew I had to incorporate a pun in some way, just because– I don’t know, I wanted it to be very easy to roll off the tongue. But again, I wanted you to hear it, know where we were, and nowhere, like, generally what we had to do with.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. So did you realize how intense it would be to run a business?

Courtney Bowman: No. Not at all. I mean, I had– Yeah, I had done hand-lettering.

Courtney Hopper: Yeah. So your backstory is– this isn’t your first kind of side hustle.

Courtney Bowman:  Right.

Courtney Hopper: This was your second.

Courtney Bowman: Right.

Courtney Hopper: Or the second that I know about. So, you did hand-lettering for a while?

Courtney Bowman: Yeah, like four, four years. And I think, that never really had any traction. And I knew I wasn’t, like, the best in the industry in Raleigh. And so, I was just very content with that being as, “This is as big as it’s going to get. It’s always going to be a side hustle.” And so, I kind of had that attitude when starting Raleigh Cheesy, like, “Oh, this is just going to be a side hustle on the side of teaching.”

Like, I never, in a million years thought I quit my job for it. Never thought I’d have a storefront. Like, that was not even in the game plan. It was just, like, the side creative outlet and it’s really fun. And then– I don’t even know how to explain it in words.

Courtney Hopper: Yeah. Like you’re just going to change– like, arrange dairy, and cured meat, and pretty shapes and add some crackers.

Dana Kadwell: So like, what was the– but, what was the turning point for you? Where you were like, “This is no longer just a side hustle.” Like, in order for me to do this right, it has to be my full-time, legit, like, quit teaching, you know, do it.

Courtney Bowman: So, two weeks after I started it, my husband lost his job. And that was tough. But it also– we just realized like, had he not lost his job, I wouldn’t have been able to do half of the stuff I was doing with Raleigh Cheesy. Because I was able to go, like, straight from teaching into making cheese boards after school.

And he was, like, full-time, stay-at-home dad, like, just killing it. But because of that, I mean, in three months, I had made my teacher salary in sales. And that was doing it on the side, you know? That was doing it after school. So I was like, “Okay, let’s, let’s pause here. If I was not teaching and doing this full time, what could it be?”

If I had hired people, if I had a store, if I was able to mass produce these, like, what could the potential be here? You know what I mean? So, that was kind of the turning point, realizing that this didn’t have to have a cap. That, it’s felt like with my teaching career, it had a cap. Like, it had just a finite–

Dana Kadwell: There’s only so far you can go.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah. There’s only so far you can go.

Courtney Hopper: You know Dana and I were both teachers for a while, but you understand that, that cap.

Dana Kadwell: Yes.

Courtney Bowman:  Right. It’s like, there’s only so much higher I can climb, and this has seemed, like, limitless.

Courtney Hopper: Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: So.

Dana Kadwell: So, I think what’s so unique about your story is, um, one, this– the, the craziest success so quickly. But what we have been following and what we’ve always kind of been watching and seeing you like pour your heart and says– Because this is, you are more of, like, an Instagram influencer, we would say, of a business. Like–

Courtney Hopper: You’re a cheese influencer.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. But your business stands on its own two feet, but you have massive followings.

Courtney Hopper: You literally built the business via Instagram, right? Like, it’s like an Instagram– it’s like an actual business made via Instagram. Like, not just for the purpose of the ‘gram, right? Like, an influencer, but you’re a business that was made because of that, which I think is amazing. Like, literally amazing.

Dana Kadwell: But, what comes with it is some pretty harsh critics. And I know you’ve– I know you’ve been in like, had a couple, some really tough things. So, if you were to go back in, in October 1st of 2019, what would you tell yourself now about these things that you’ve been going through?

Courtney Bowman: Oh, wow. I think honestly, I’m, I’m just so much happier now, even with the, like, random criticisms. I’m just so much happier doing something I love now than I was.

So, I think, just part of reaching a lot of people, part of having a larger following is just that you are opening yourself up to more criticism and more critique and– I was talking to my dad about this. And he was like, “I think you’re just so positive. And a beat that any time you give a negative review about anything, people literally take it personally.”

Like, my opinion about things affects people personally. And that’s, like, very hard for me to wrap my mind around. Because I’m like, “Is my– like, why does it matter? It shouldn’t affect you.” Like, people very much internalize it as like, a personal dig at them if I say something that I don’t like that, they do like, you know? I’m learning.

Courtney Hopper: So, how do you– how do you keep it real? Then how do you, like, keep your authenticity, yet still be cognizant of the fact that you could step on somebody’s toes with your opinion? But yet, we still all want to know what the right cheese to buy is and where not to go.

Courtney Bowman: I’m still learning, honestly. I think if you would have told me that I would have gotten so much backlash over telling people I did not like to shop at Aldi last week, I would have been shocked.

Like, I thought I was posting something that was very innocent and, um, you know, I think there’s a difference in, like, one or two trolls coming at you and, you know, telling you you’re being a jerk, and that’s fine. Like, that’s different, but it was, like, a lot of people coming forward and not even necessarily being mean, but just saying, “Hey, this hurts, like, because of XYZ.”

And I was like, “Wow, okay.” Like, “Thank you. I need to address this,” you know? I don’t know. I always want to encourage people. I– I’ve always felt, called to be vulnerable in the middle of a process. And so, the reason I post apology videos crying on Instagram is because I– that’s how I move on, you know? And I want to show people a real human being who makes mistakes, and owns them and apologizes for them, and then does better, you know?

I think that’s all we can ask for right now. I’m– I hope people know that by following me, I’m probably not going to be perfect all the time. And man, I hope I recover well, you know? But I think my mistakes are just like any. I can’t imagine influencers who have like millions of followers, like, any mistake you make is just publicly broadcast. And so–

Courtney Hopper: Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah.

Courtney Hopper: I love that. I really love that. Totally think that’s hard. We had a small issue, kind of similar, where we were promoting a–

Dana Kadwell:  Oh yeah.

Courtney Hopper: A conference called the “Sip n’ Bitch,” which is just basically, like, come have a drink and let’s talk about the ins and outs, the positives and the negatives of business, right? We’re just going to get together, bitch, have event session, whatever. So we promoted it on all of our platforms. We’ve promoted it on Hustle and Gather, we promoted it on C and D, and on the Bradford. And somebody DM’d us back that was appalled that we would write such a word on the Bradford’s Instagram.

Like, that is not the venue that she wants her daughter to get married at, that is not what she signed up for, you guys are classier than that. And we really had to take a second, but like, to think about it. Like, your first inclination is like, “Who are you?” Right. Like, who are you to tell me, like, how I– what I should and should not do on my platform. Right?

Please unfollow if you must. But then we kind of like thought about it and we’re like, “Well, there’s a lot of people who do get married at Bradford, in the deep South. Like, the Bible belt, who probably holds similar opinions and probably are not voicing them. And maybe we do need to be a little bit more careful about our brand image on certain platforms.

Right? But it was definitely like, “What?” Like, my initial gut reaction was just very like, defensive. Like, “Don’t, don’t tell me what I can and cannot say. You’re not my mother.” You know?

Courtney Bowman: Right. And it’s this, this line too, of like– I always get feedback. It’s like, “We follow you because you’re so authentic.” And “You’re so honest and vulnerable.”

And then it’s like, when I’m not saying what you want to hear–

Courtney Hopper: Right.

Courtney Bowman: You don’t want. And so, how vulnerable do you want me to be? Like, how honest do you want me to be? And I have to realize too, there are people on here who watch me, who literally feel like they know me. They’re like, “We’re best friends.” Like, “You’re– it makes me feel so happy,” but I don’t know them, you know?

And they only know the me that I’m portraying, right? And so, it’s this hard line of, like, my humor isn’t always going to come across perfectly, as opposed to like some of my best friends who know me in person.

Courtney Hopper: Right.

Courtney Bowman:  You know?

Dana Kadwell: But don’t you feel like, too, like we were– I remember I was at this, um, I listen to a podcast about Gen Z-ers and how it’s so important for that generation, is authenticity. Like, they really want to be authentic. They want to be authentic; they want to buy from people that are authentic, and then you hear these stories and you’re like, do they really want authenticity though? Like, do they really want it? Or do they just want the perceived authenticity that fits into their narrative of their life and makes them feel good?

And at that point, how do you know? Like–

Courtney Hopper: Yeah.

Dana Kadwell: How do you know what they’re actually looking for? And, and that’s one of the things that immediately popped in my head when I saw yours– uh, Aldi drama. And I was like–

Courtney Hopper: Your teary apology.

Dana Kadwell: I personally don’t love Aldi’s. Like, not for any reason other than there’s not really one near me, and it–the store stresses me out because I don’t know where anything is. And it’s just not my favorite place.

Like, I’m a Harris Teeter girl through and through, or Food Lion. Like those are my places. But, um– so I didn’t think anything of it. Because I was not, like, personally connected to it, but like, I have a friend who I didn’t know followed you, followed you. And she was like, “I love Aldi’s.” Like, “I can’t believe she doesn’t like Aldi’s.” It’s not that that she was mad about it, but she was just, like, appalled that someone was not, like, in love with Aldi’s. Because she was so deeply in love with this grocery store that, like, saves her so much money all the time, or whatever. And I was like, “This is so bizarre.”

Courtney Bowman: Right.

Courtney Hopper: But I just can’t understand why you would be, like, not understanding. Or the public not being able to understand that, yes, I would buy my canned corn from Aldi’s, but I might not buy my cheese for my charcuterie board at Aldi’s. Right? Like, I’ll get the celery, but not the manchego. I don’t understand, you know?

Courtney Bowman: And I think a lot of people, which I had no idea, I’ve never viewed Aldi as, like, a lower income store. The one I would go to is directly next to the Trader Joe’s. So, it’s, you know, the two have never– I’ve never been like, “Oh, you can only go in here if you make above a certain income. You only go here if you make below–”

Courtney Hopper: Right. Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: So, when I had people messaging me saying, you know, “Literally, this is like– I know a lot of people who this is the only place they can afford to shop.” And I’m like, I just, that did not register to me. And so, it was more of people accusing me of– the direct quote was, “Shitting on someone’s livelihood.” And I hate that.

Like, if I would even be associated with that, that makes me want to– and it was multiple people that said that. That said it sounded like I was being self-righteous and saying I was better than Aldi. And I was better than the people who shopped there. And that’s where it was like, wow. I’ve never associated this with lower income, so I need to address that.

And that’s where I felt probably the most guilt and the most shame was like, that’s like the furthest thing from my heart, you know? But yeah. And maybe that is my privilege and that’s where I need acknowledge it too. Like, the fact that I don’t associate it. Maybe that’s because I’m a middle class, white woman who’s just never associated that.

Courtney Hopper: Never had to think about where you shop.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. You just pick it for convenience.

Courtney Bowman: Absolutely.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. So I know, because we’ve talked a little bit, a little bit about your backstory that this isn’t the first time that Instagram has gotten you in trouble and put some stuff out there that maybe you didn’t want really out there.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I think a theme of my life that I’m learning, like ever since– I have, like, embraced authenticity and vulnerability I think my whole life. I don’t know how to be a fake person. It’s just never– I can’t do it. I can’t, like, be someone I’m not. And so, in the spirit of that, I tend to overshare, maybe? Or just, like, give more honest opinions about things, or try to be different.

I’m a hardcore Enneagram Four. Okay? So I thrive when I feel different or feel unique in some way. Um, this is a real story that my dad reminded me of. He was like, “Hey, remember this? This has always been an issue with you.” And I was like, “Oh, thanks, Dad.” Um, I applied to be in the National Honor Society when I was a Junior in high school.

And you had to write a paper saying why you wanted to be in it. Right? And so, I wanted my paper to be different. I knew everybody’s was going to be the same. You had to, like, write three reasons why you wanted to be in it.

So, I write these two beautiful paragraphs. And the third paragraph I say is because we get a pin. And I would wear that pin everywhere. I’d wear it to the movies. And I’m, like, thinking I’m being funny, I’m being sarcastic, like, “Oh, they’ll like it because it’s different,” you know? Um, no. I almost got kicked out. Like I– the lady, like, read it to me. I had to, like, write this apology letter–

Dana Kadwell: Was it, like, you were making fun of it?

Courtney Bowman: Yeah, she thought I was, like, genuinely making fun of it. And I was just trying to be different. I was trying to be a different sort of application. And so I literally– I made straight A’s throughout all of high school, I never got in any detention, never got Saturday school, nothing. I was mortified. Like, so this is a theme in my life, you know? Um, where I write something that maybe gets misinterpreted. So like, I mean, this kind of all started cheese boarding. Because I almost got fired from teaching.

Dana Kadwell: Yes. I remember this.

Courtney Hopper: Yes.

Courtney Bowman: Yes. Um, because I had, gosh, all of your listeners are going to be like, “Wow, she is a hot mess.” Um–

Courtney Hopper:  But if she– if this hot mess can make it, so can you.

Dana Kadwell: That’s right.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah. That’s true. Um, yeah. So, I had written a Facebook post just about how hard teaching was. I had posted a picture of me crying, just saying teaching was hard. I was feeling burned out, but like the kids didn’t want to try, and that was really discouraging. And my supervisor did not take too kindly to that post because it started going viral. And like, I was not insulting at school at all. I was not–

It was so real.

Dana Kadwell: It was so– it was literally what teachers go through.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah. And I was just kind of baffled at the response from someone who had known me for seven years and, like, not knowing my heart. And so, it was basically, like, “You can take this last year or you can, like, start becoming passionate about Latin.” And I was like, “Okay, well, I’m not passionate about Latin.”

I don’t think that’s going to change. I, I do love teaching. Like, I would not have written this post if I didn’t love teaching. Right? If I was apathetic to it, it wouldn’t affect me. Like, I wouldn’t care. So, it was just really a rough conversation. It was a rough beginning of the year because I just didn’t feel appreciated as a teacher.

I didn’t feel wanted there after seven years of being a very well-liked teacher and getting really good feedback. And so, it was just, it was rough. I mean, cheese boarding came along as an outlet because I literally felt silenced. Like, I felt like I couldn’t write.

Courtney Hopper: Well, I think the problem was is you were like, uh, about eight months too early. Like, given that post being written in April, you would’ve gotten a lot of like, “Hell yes!” And “Amens.” Right?

Courtney Bowman: Right. And seeing what teachers are posting on Instagram, on Tik Tok now of, like, just how hard teaching is in general. I look at that kind of stuff and I’m like, “They’re not getting– how are they not getting fired?” Like. “How–what are you saying?” It’s like all these teachers having breakdowns and, like, they’re going viral. And I was like, “Really?”

Dana Kadwell:  Before your time.

Courtney Bowman:  I was pre pandemic, you know?

Dana Kadwell: You were. Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: It really did come along at the right time though. But I think the theme of being vulnerable and having it– being willing to be vulnerable means also being willing to have it be misinterpreted, honestly.

Dana Kadwell: Do you feel like that? Because you’re, so you’re in the process, you’re about to open the storefront. And when this airs, you will have a storefront open. Do you feel like that knowledge of what it feels like to be vulnerable and authentic and for that to be misconstrued, because now you’re talking about a lot more customer service, because you’re going to be more face to face. Do you think that’s going to make you a better boss to your, um, employees?

Courtney Bowman: I hope so. I’ve always wanted to find a way to marry business life and vulnerability, and I don’t think it’s seen very much. I’m very tired of people saying that, like, people who have emotions, can’t be good businesspeople. And I have plenty of emotions and I believe I have a kick ass business.

You know what I mean? Like, I think I can be both. And I think I can make good business decisions and also be in tune with my emotions. You know what I mean?

Dana Kadwell:  Oh, I feel that very deeply.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. I think, I think, I think a lot of it comes part with being a female too. I think you, a lot of times, you’re just characterized as this one thing. Like, “Oh, you’re just upset because, you know, you’re emotional, because you’re a woman.” And I’m like,” No, no. I’m emotional because I’m a human.” It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a, a female. It’s just, I’m a human who cares deeply about what I do.

Courtney Bowman: Right.

Courtney Hopper: Yeah. I think too, like, you are in a, a service industry. Like, you’re trying to serve your clients. And, uh, I think anytime you’re in a, like, client-facing business or industry that there is some emotional component. People have to feel that connection. They need to feel like you care about them. Like you care about them through cheese. Like we care about people through a building, you know? And so, there is, like, an emotional component and they say there’s no place for emotion in business, but I think that’s absolutely not the truth.

Right? You know? Caring and servicing someone well requires an emotional response on your end.

Courtney Bowman: Right. And even a part of me, like, it’s terrified of even saying it out loud. Because I mean, for generations, we’ve been taught that emotion and business do not go hand in hand. And it makes you weak, it makes you a bad leader, it makes you, like, make poor decisions, like, all this stuff. And I’m so sick of that. And I hate that. That limits so many people and limits so many personalities from pursuing what they want to pursue because they don’t think they can do it because they have emotions or feelings or whatever. And I think there’s a way to have emotions without letting them rule your life.

You know what I mean? And that’s why I felt like it was important to do what I did last week of post a video of me crying and apologizing and saying, “This is what I’m feeling right now. And I’m moving on.” You know? I’m not going to sit and dwell in it. I’m not going to, like, be depressed for the next week.

Okay? We’re going to move on to other things and we’re going to move past this. And the only way I can heal and move on and be better is if I feel the emotion, I cry about it, I apologize. And we move on. You know?

Dana Kadwell:  Yeah. And you learn from it.

Courtney Bowman: Right.

Dana Kadwell: You do better. Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: Right.

Dana Kadwell:  Is there something in your life that balances you? Like, I know for me, I’ve always been characterized as a highly emotional person. And I’ve been told that my entire life. I’ve been told I’m moody, I’ve been told I’m intense, I’ve been told I have too many emotions. And so, I’ve always been afraid of them. Like, I’m afraid of what they are. And so, for me, my balance is my husband and I’ll go home, and I’ll be like, “I need to tell you this. I need you to tell me if I’m crazy.” Like, am I crazy? Because I don’t trust myself because I’ve been told that my emotions aren’t valid, and they aren’t real, and they’re too much.

Is there something in your life that helps you balance knowing, like, “I should be upset about this. I should just let this go.”

Courtney Bowman: Right. Mine is my husband, for sure. He is, like, the most chill human being. I don’t think he ever gets angry about anything. Like, the times I’ve seen him angry are just so few or like truly up in arms about something. It’s just not– it does not happen that much. And so, there are oftentimes where I come in and I’m like, “I feel lost! Blah!” And he’s like, “Okay, cool. I hear that.” You know, “I think you might be a little off in this area.” Or he might be like, “No, you’re right. That’s dumb. I’ll be mad at that with you,” you know?

And we’ll be mad for a second. But his mad is always, you know, just a tone lower than mine. So, I kind of come down to his level and I’m like, “Okay.” He, he very much talks reason to me when I feel a little crazy, but.

Dana Kadwell: I love that. It’s so– it’s, it’s, it is so settling to have that in your life. Where you, you feel like you have, what I just call my “steady.”

Like, when I’m–

Courtney Bowman: Yes.

Dana Kadwell: Sometimes at work, it’s like, you’re on this rocking boat and you get home and it’s just like, it’s steady. And like–

Courtney Bowman: Right.

Dana Kadwell: I can process things now and get back to, like, not wanting to kill everybody. So, it’s great.

Courtney Bowman: Right. Absolutely.

Courtney Hopper: Any way to keep homicide at bay I think is useful and– a useful endeavor. Yeah. So, yeah. Um, I totally love your story. We love, like, how fast it just kind of like popped in our market. It’s amazing. What would you tell somebody who wants to do something similar, like, not necessarily charcuterie boards, but just something they’re passionate about. They’re feeling creatively stifled. They found something that they love, and they want to maybe use Instagram or some other platform to, kind of, really launch it. Like, what do you– what’s your advice? Best advice?

Courtney Bowman: Yeah, I think, um, become an expert at your craft, whatever it is. Like, learn all you can about it. I feel like I know a lot, but I know, I don’t know all of the things. And so, I read a lot about cheese right now in my life. I’m doing just lots of research and lots of eating cheese to figure out what’s good and what I like.

Courtney Hopper: It sounds like a job I would love.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah, yeah. It’s really hard. I take one for the team every day. Um, but it, it’s from the place of, I’m not just making these boards hoping things go together. I am, like, trying to become an expert at it.

Dana Kadwell: Sure. Um, so one question we love to ask all of our people, and maybe you’ve already answered this within the podcast, but like, what was your biggest like, “Oh, shit,” moment where you were like, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.” Like, I’m not sure if this is the right path.”

Courtney Hopper: Or like, this is about to fall apart.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: Oh yeah. So, um, I mean, after I’d been doing this three months, so I started in October 2019, we started looking, you know, for licenses and, like, things we needed to be able to do it. Like, we became a legitimate business, we got the business insurance, all that stuff, but we couldn’t find any, like, permits we needed because we were never dealing with raw foods.

And so, it was just so vague about what we needed. And every time we’d go to apply, it was like, “Oh yes, you’re cooking out of your home.” We’re like, “No, we’re not doing that.” And regardless, on New Year’s Eve of 2019, a competitor reported us to the health department because they knew we were working out of our home.

And I was like, “What?” Like, they– they’re an hour away. Like, I wouldn’t even consider them a competitor, but they literally told us like, “Yeah, whoever does the work should reap the benefits.” Like, and you should not reap the benefit. Like, because you’re not doing this correctly, you shouldn’t reap any of the benefits.

And I was like, “Okay, cool, thanks.” So, we went back and forth with the Health Department for the longest time. And we’re like, “Okay, what can we do to become legal?” Like, “Help us become legal.” And they were like, “You need a commercial kitchen.” And I was like, “Okay.” So, we literally spent January through March looking for a commercial kitchen. And this was me, like, going into stores and bakeries and shops and being like, “Hey, y’all interested in sharing your kitchen? I’ll pay you rent.” Like, talking to the owner.

Courtney Hopper: I need to arrange some cheese.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah. Like, literally door to door salesman for myself and being like, “Hey, so how long do you guys use your kitchen? Is it free? Like, during any hours and, um, can I get the Health Department to come in here and verify that? And also, can I pay you guys?” Like, I did that throughout any restaurant or business that had a kitchen in downtown Cary, I went into. So embarrassing now that I think about it, but it’s fine. I was just desperate.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah.

Courtney Bowman: Then COVID hit. So all tours, everything was shut. Like, we had tours for some commercial kitchen. Everything was shut down. And I was like, “Well, my husband still doesn’t have a job. Like, I have to still keep making cheese boards for our livelihood. So, we just kind of kept going. And the Health Department seemed otherwise occupied with COVID. Understandable.

And then we started the process of getting a storefront and talking about that. So, that started in May. And once we knew that was coming, we were just like, “Okay, now we have a plan, and they know our plan. And we’re very legal now. Praise the lord.

Courtney Hopper:  So COVID really bought you some time.

Courtney Bowman: COVID bought us some time. I know a lot of people say it was like a big, like, it, it destroyed so many businesses, but I really say in a lot of ways it was probably our saving grace.

Courtney Hopper: Yeah.

Dana Kadwell:  It’s amazing. So, we’re recording this right before your new storefront launches. I–

Courtney Hopper: So exciting. In Apex?

In Apex.

Courtney Bowman: I’m sitting in it right now.

Dana Kadwell: So what question would you want to ask your future self?

Courtney Bowman: How many years down the road are we talking?

Dana Kadwell: Let’s say your first year.

Courtney Bowman: First year, I’d want to know, “Courtney. Have you hired any more people?” And “Are your hours extended? Have you vacationed at all this year? Have you taken some time off with your family?” And I would like to know that we had a higher fiscal year in 2021 than we did in 2020.

Does it seem– basically re-evaluating the storefront in general. Like, “Does it seem like this was a good idea?” “Are we, are we on a positive trajectory here?” You know? “Are we– do we feel encouraged by this past year?”

Dana Kadwell: I’m sure it’ll be great. And you’re right next to the coworking station. Correct?

Courtney Bowman: Oh, yeah. Right across this.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. So, like a perfect spot. Like, I can imagine, totally, people having, like, when COVID is gone, because we’re all going to profess it. It’s going to be gone in 2022.

Courtney Bowman: It’s going to be gone.

Dana Kadwell:  But when it’s gone, people are getting a charcuterie board for their business meetings and whatnot, and it’s right off 540, like it’s such an easy get on, get off; just so convenient. Really great spot.

Courtney Bowman: And it’s so close to the Bradford, actually. I want to say–

Dana Kadwell: It is.

Courtney Bowman:  It’s like 15 minutes,

Courtney Hopper: That’s close.

Courtney Bowman: That’s very close.

Dana Kadwell: It’s a solid 15, 18 on a weekday. 15 on a weekend.

Courtney Bowman: Yeah.

Dana Kadwell: Yeah. Awesome. Well, it has been so much fun chatting with you. I love, I just love your story. I love how authentic and real you are. I know that sometimes they get you in hot water, but I think it’s what fortifies you.

And I think it’s what everyone needs. Everyone needs that reality that you aren’t a robot. Like, and you’re not sitting behind your phone. And I’m sure you’re thinking about what you’re writing, but it’s not so contrived that we miss who Courtney is. Because I fell in love with your stories before Raleigh Cheesy.

My favorite one was about the soup. When you tried to make soup one day for your husband, and it was really bad.

Courtney Bowman: Ugh, it was a disaster. I remember that still. It was so bad.

Dana Kadwell:  I just, I related so much on that level. It was so funny.

Courtney Bowman: It was awful.

Dana Kadwell: I know, but you’ve been being you for years now, even before Raleigh Cheesy. So, I love that you are, uh, are so successful and you’re going to be amazing. The storefront is going to be amazing.

Courtney Bowman: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And I’m so glad you guys had me on this today. It was so fun.

Courtney Hopper: Yes. Thank you so much. I love all your stories.

Dana Kadwell: Thank you everyone for gathering with us today to talk about the hustle. To check out Raleigh Cheesy, visit raleighcheesy.com. Follow them on Instagram @RaleighCheesy or check out their new storefront in Apex.

Courtney Hopper: And to learn more about our hustle, visit canddevents.com, thebradfordnc.com, and hustleandgather.com. Or follow us on Instagram @CandDEvents, @TheBradfordNC, or @HustleandGather.

And if you liked this show, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating and a review. This podcast is a production of Earfluence. I’m Courtney.

Dana Kadwell:  And I’m Dana.

Courtney Hopper: And we’ll talk to you next time on Hustle and Gather.

Full Episode Transcript

Hustle and Gather is hosted by Courtney Hopper and Dana Kadwell, and is produced by Earfluence.  Courtney and Dana’s hustles include C&D Events, Hustle and Gather, and The Bradford Wedding Venue.

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