The pandemic has not been kind to the restaurant and foodservice industry, to say the least. Dozens of Dallas restaurants have closed. Almost all of the rest of them — perhaps with the exception of delivery-only ghost kitchens — have had to make major changes to accommodate significant reductions in dine-in revenue.
Sara Carlock, who started Amor Y Queso during the early months of the pandemic when her event-based business evaporated, counts herself fortunate.
“If you had asked me a year ago if I would be opening a spot in Deep Ellum, I wouldn’t believe it,” Carlock says.
Next to Le Bon Temps, the new Amor Y Queso space is just large enough for a kitchen, service counter and a small sidebar on the wall for few people to stand.
But the limited space is not an issue for Carlock’s business model, one that has been purposely built for pandemic-times since inception: preordered cheese and charcuterie boxes designed to be taken home.
There is no “menu” of items or build-your-own option at Amor Y Queso. Options are priced by size, and the contents regularly rotate.
We were able to sample a mini-sized box ($15) that included a small bounty of treats: uncured salami, smoked gouda, baby brie, rosemary flatbreads, grapes, maple glazed pecans, dried apricot, candied oranges and Corn Nuts (an unexpected but extremely welcomed component that paired wonderfully with the funkiness of the cheese).
Several of the items were sourced locally, such as the pecans from Charlie’s Treats. Beyond the boards, Carlock uses her new storefront to showcase a range of artisan goods from local partner vendors, such as Bonton Farms honey and La Casita Bakeshop's baked goods.
Carlock attributes the move to Deep Ellum as a classic case of right-place-at-the-right-time. But that’s only part of it. A full accounting of the story adds two additional components: part one-man's-misfortune-is-another-man's-opportunity, part necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention.
The previous tenant, Cookie Shop, closed earlier this year with plans to reopen when the pandemic subsided. But like many other restaurants in Dallas, weeks turned to months, and ultimately Cookie Shop was forced to shutter for good.
Around the same time, Donna Collins, the owner of The Jelly Queens, told Carlock she was moving her base of operations to McKinney at the end of the year, which prompted Carlock to consider alternatives.
“It was such an organic process, it didn’t feel forced,” Carlock says.
“So many people have spent the year waiting for it to be over, but I’ve had this success and I’m just so grateful,” Carlock says.
With the new space, Carlock has big plans: expand partnerships with other local vendors to sell more of their goods, install a grab-and-go fridge and eventually offer mimosas on tap. She’s also not forgotten about the virus, either: free COVID-19 testing flyers for restaurant industry workers are presented prominently on the counter.
Even in times of coronavirus, it seems some good things are still possible.
Amor y Queso, 2932 Main St., No. 102 (Deep Ellum). 956-237-0660. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Pre-order pickups only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; it’s recommended to call ahead of arrival for day-of orders.