How your business mission can guide you through a downturn

With its purpose firmly intact, this mission-driven business is shifting its strategy during COVID-19.

Cheesemongers John & Kendall Antonelli hosting virtual tastings for customers.

Kendall and John Antonelli's passion for artisan cheese led them to open Antonelli’s Cheese Shop 10 years ago in the heart of Austin, Texas. 

But it’s their commitment to the greater good that built it into a thriving retail, wholesale, events and e-commerce business. Even their mission statement puts goodwill before gastronomy: “Do good. Eat good.” 

“To me, passion is what gives you fuel, and purpose is what gives you direction,” said John. So, when COVID-19 turned everything upside down, their purpose helped keep them on track. 

Passion is what gives you fuel, and purpose is what gives you direction.-John Antonelli

Relying on your business mission

The pandemic has hit restaurants and retailers especially hard. Live events were canceled, too. And that checks three of the four boxes that are core to the Antonelli's business.  

“We changed 10 years of business in 10 days,” said John of their initial response to the state’s mandatory shutdown orders. 

That quick shift in strategy was possible due to their clearly defined mission, which includes five core principles: 

  • Passion with purpose. 
  • Be true. To ourselves. To others.
  • Be a juggernaut of awesome. 
  • Family first. Then business.
  • Improve every day. 

Mission as a lens for decision making

In 2018, Antonelli's opened a second location. But the concept was different and it never took off, so they closed it a year later, at a loss and with layoffs. “We realized that particular concept was moving us away from our mission, and that’s a dangerous place to be as a business owner,” said Kendall. 

“That experience, though, absolutely guided us when the pandemic hit,” she continued. “Figuring out how to avoid layoffs drove all of our early decisions.”

And there were hundreds of decisions to make, like finding new sources of revenue and staying connected to customers without losing that third core principle: Be a juggernaut of awesome.

“It means always creating a positive wave and making a positive impact—whether on one person or the whole community,” explained Kendall. “Even operating under different circumstances, this can still be our goal every day.” 

Mission-based storytelling as a content strategy

Sharing the stories behind artisan foods is the foundation of Antonelli’s. “It’s how we represent our makers,” said John. “It’s how we make an impact in our ‘do good, eat good’ mission.” So, the couple set out to find unique ways of storytelling during the pandemic. 

Shifting to new sources of revenue meant amping up digital content, from moving events to Facebook Live to recording virtual tours with dairy farmers in Netherlands, Italy and Spain. 

The videos are distributed to cheesemongers across the country to help boost the farmer’s business. 

“We wanted to somehow help the cheesemakers who were struggling,” said John. “The virtual tours give them a way to share their stories directly with customers.” 

More than 100 people joined the first virtual tour, which an Italian farmer filmed with a cellphone. “The value wasn’t in production quality,” said John. “It’s in the story behind the cheese, from the person to the land to the humane treatment of animals.”

All these virtual tastings and tours are adding to Antonelli’s growing YouTube channel, providing a new way for them to share their passion and purpose with current—and future—customers. 

They’ve also developed new content on the ecommerce side, like the Cheese Class in a Box that ships with everything needed for an at-home tasting. One customer sent it to a dozen friends to celebrate her last round of chemo. “We led a real-time tasting for them,” said Kendall. “It was such an honor to participate.” 

Kendall and John Antonelli, Owners of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, Capital One Customers Since 2015

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