December 4, 2018 – Voyage LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Park Fierro.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Leah. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I am an Angeleno, born and raised. I always had a love for food and the food industry. When I was in high school, I worked at Baskin Robbins, Islands and Johnny Rockets!

In 1999, I enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco when I was 17 years old and started to work pastry departments. I bounced around a lot in my youth, working in San Francisco, the Virgin Islands, Florida, Boston, and Beverly Hills. After a healthy run in the culinary industry, I decided to quit my job (last one being the Assistant Pastry Chef at the Regent Beverly Wilshire) and decided to travel solo around the world for a year with one of those gigantic backpacks.

Upon my return, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew I wanted to stay in the culinary field. I longed for the good food and small bodegas that I experienced everywhere around the world. I found a job at The Cheese Store of Silverlake; it was a game changer. The cheese industry opened my eyes to an amazing sector in the food industry I had never known and kept me connected with professionals in the industry. I was there for six years and by the end of my term, was managing the shop with Chris (I miss him dearly).

I left The Cheese Store of Silverlake in 2013 to open Milkfarm; we opened our doors on April 7, 2014. Milkfarm is a compilation of nearly 20 years of my life in the culinary industry, my world travels, and the definition of everything I am about as an Angeleno…. oh, and it’s a cheese shop!

Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t think it is possible to have a “smooth road” when opening your first small business. NO ONE knows how to open a business until you put one foot in front of the other and start the process. Yes, overall, Milkfarm has been a bit successful, and I am extremely grateful for our supportive customers.

Owning a business is like being on a double black diamond ski-run full of moguls… it’s exhilarating, but there’s a good chance you won’t make it out without falling. There are literally hundreds, if not, thousands of things to think about when opening a brick and mortar, when having employees, when handling food, when handling beer/wine, when owning a small business in LA (I hear it’s one of the hardest places to own a small business), and especially working with something as perishable as cheese. I remember a few weeks into being open, we suddenly had no hot water. After 30 minutes on the phone with the Gas Company, I realized I never opened an account!

When people come to me and say they are planning on opening a business, I tell them “ask me anything!” Because you’llneed all the help and advice you can get…I know I did!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Milkfarm – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Milkfarm is an artisan cheese shop and cheese is our main focus although our sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies sometimes steal the show. We also have beer/wine/sake/cider that can be enjoyed in the shop but can also be purchased like a bottle shop to-go. I really enjoy when people ask for a glass of wine to enjoy while shopping or trying cheese. It creates a special environment that is pretty unique to what we do.

I believe there are many things that set us apart from others. First and foremost, it’s highly curated. I try to focus on local producers, Good Food Award Winners, and interesting cheeses (just to name a few topics). When a vendor comes in with a dozen jams, we taste every single one and only pick the flavors that we think are amazing. I try to do this with everything from crackers, wine, chocolate, and even almonds! When people ask “have you tried this, is it good?” we can say with confidence that we have tried every single item in the shop and it is delicious.

Also, I take a lot of pride in staff education. I literally test my employees. I want them to know ALL about cheese. They need to know how it is made, where it is from, what is lactose and casein, which animal has the fattiest milk, etc., etc. The more knowledge they have, the more confident they can be as Cheesemongers and the more they enjoy their job. We have A LOT of cheese in our case, and it can be really intimidating to a cheese-novice customer, so the more my Cheesemongers can talk about cheese comfortably, the more we can open the lines of cheese-communication with our customers. It’s very rewarding to have a customer come in and ask for an obscure cheese like Challerhöcker, that means we’ve done our job.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love how diverse LA is. How I can walk down the street and hear several different accents and see a ton of different dressing styles. I love that I can decide to eat kibbeh, kimchee, or kraut and find it within five miles of me. I love that I can be a Korean-American female that owns a cheese shop, plays the accordion, and be married to a man of Mexican descent… it’s bonkers, it’s so LA!

I hate the traffic and the taxes.