The future looks gouda for Belmont alumna and entrepreneur Ashton Judy, who recently opened a cheese and charcuterie restaurant in Nashville’s L&L Market: Culture + Co.
The restaurant features a bar with a rotating conveyor belt offering various cheeses and charcuteries as well as a separate, smaller bar for wines — and it’s the first dining area in the U.S. of its kind.
Dishes are labeled and color-coded to indicate which menu items they pair well with in a variety of culinary stylings — customers can take the menu’s suggested pairings or choose what looks good as it passes, sushi-train style.
Many of Culture + Co.’s dishes, like the lemon, marshmallow and arugula goat cheese, fuse unlikely flavors in innovative ways. Composed plates like this one allow customers to sample several dishes in one meal, said Judy’s mom, Jacquelin Palladino.
“Be adventurous. Try new things,” she said. “Share and just have fun.”
The communal dining experience is inspired by a conveyor belt charcuterie Judy and Palladino visited in London. At the time, that rotating charcuterie was the only one in the world, Palladino said.
“We were like, ‘why isn’t anyone doing this in the U.S.?’” Palladino said. “So, we started thinking about how we could do it a little bit differently.”
Due to concerns with COVID-19, the restaurant is currently unable to provide the communal spirit the co-owners plan to eventually enact; but the restaurant’s recent soft launch represents a long-term dream coming to fruition for both Judy and her mother.
The two have cooked together since Judy was a child, and often talked about opening a restaurant, Palladino said. The pair now co-owners of Culture + Co., with pastry chef Palladino curating the menu and Judy handling business.
“She’s always been a creative inspiration and someone I look up to,” Judy said of her mother. “I don’t know if I’d want to be doing this with anyone else.”
Most of the restaurant’s products come from creameries in the U.S., though a few are shipped from overseas, said Judy. Almost all menu items will change seasonally, except a few year-round classics, which will instead see seasonal twists.
Culture + Co.’s menus are inspired by the flavors and fresh produce available in each season, Palladino explained. Some dishes, like the Honest Coffee cold brew-soaked amoretti cookie tiramisu, are inspired by other vendors in the L&L Market.
Part of Judy’s personality has always been dreaming up businesses, she said. She graduated in 2016 with a psychology major and business minor and acknowledged her time at Belmont as one of the reasons for her entrepreneurial pursuits.
“I think being in an environment where people were supportive of creativity helped foster that part of my brain and my personality,” Judy said.
But Palladino was also full of ideas — so many that her kids joked about opening a mall to house all her business ventures, said Judy, who noted Culture + Co’s current location in Nashville’s L&L Market-style mall.
The two signed Culture + Co.’s lease in December 2019 and bought the conveyor belt shortly after. The pandemic postponed the restaurant’s opening, but gave Judy and Palladino lots of time at home to brainstorm, Judy said.
Though COVID restrictions prevent them from rolling out the “full concept,” Judy and Palladino are planning for post-pandemic expansions, hoping to double or triple their menu.
This article written by Vivi Smilgius.