On Washington Avenue in the Prospect Heights district of Brooklyn, sits Riverdel, a shop dedicated to dairy-free cheese and fine foods. It’s a slice of the vegan good life in NYC that draws both neighborhood locals and visitors alike.
Photos: Eric Mirbach
Perfectly positioned just a few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum, Botanic Gardens, and Prospect Park, it’s become a favorite spot for a post-run breakfast sandwich, a picnic stocked from an incredible variety of artisanal cheeses, or a plant-based meat & cheese platter for a gourmet gathering at home.
Almost any time of the day, you’ll find the small shop bustling with diehard vegans satisfying their cheese craving and the veg curious stopping in to ask, Is this really cheese? (The answer is yes.) It’s no wonder Food & Wine and the local NY press have taken note, with Riverdel at the forefront of the cheese revolution.
I caught up with Michaela Grob, the owner of Riverdel, one recent morning ahead of the shop’s daily deliveries and the customer rush. Michaela and I used to work together at Booking.com, and I’ve always admired how she made the leap from the corporate world to follow her passion for vegan cheesemaking—first training at PLANTLAB and perfecting her nut-based cheeses at home to now showcasing her talents to the public as a cheesemonger, and consequently, making a difference for the animals.
I asked Michaela what it took to break out on her own, and what it takes, now 2.5 years in business, to make it a continued success. She points to two things: First, a different way of thinking. In starting your own business, you are the infrastructure. No marketing and PR team, no financial systems already built in. Second, a certain degree of flexibility. For example, she never intended Riverdel to be a sandwich shop, but take any Saturday morning with a 20-minute wait for the McDel (a delicious eggy tofu, bacon, tomato & greens on an English muffin), and you’ll see why maxing out their kitchen space to satisfy the customer demand made sense.
“Our focus is on good food, regardless of the label”
Even with the expanded prepared food offering, and potential consideration of a vegan wine & cheese bar in the future, the shop has remained true to its origins. “We’re just like any other shop”, Michaela shared. “It’s just that everything in here is vegan. Our focus is on good food, regardless of the label.” Michaela has focused on providing her housemade cheeses and stocking various artisanal brands, all of which are using age-old cheesemaking techniques. It just so happens that they’re fermenting nuts rather than dairy milk curds.
She sees dairy-free cheese as an extension of the cheese world. Essentially, rather than merely replicating dairy cheeses, it’s about creating something new and different; Creating a cheese that is outstanding in its own right. Trust me, once you’ve tasted the Grey Day Blue or the Mulshenock from Catskill, NY-based Cheezehound regularly on offer at Riverdel, you’ll likely agree.
Perhaps most interesting is how Riverdel has become a beacon for the vegan movement in the surrounding community. From designing a fully vegan menu for a Mexican restaurant up the block, to hosting local chefs for a full cheese tasting, to later connecting them with local cheesemongers from which to source, Michaela sees an opportunity in expanding beyond the vegan bubble. “I want to get in front of the non-vegans”, she said. “I want to show them that there are great options out there. That you don’t have to be afraid of it, you can be vegan, and you’re not going to miss out on anything.”
Riverdel has proven that it is indeed possible to change the hearts and minds of the veg curious and the culinary tastemakers. One bite of a creamy, earthy macadamia camembert or a sharp, aged cashew cheese, and a mere curiosity instantly becomes an obsession.
820 Washington Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238
Tuesday — Friday: 8 am — 8 pm
Saturday: 9 am — 8 pm
Sunday: 9 am — 8 pm
Closed on Memorial Day, Independence Day & Labor Day
+1 718 928 7702