[title subtitle=”WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGE Jade Graves Photography”][/title]
When it comes to the ultimate nosh, a charcuterie board is the perfect go-to, an assortment of edibles centered on meat and cheeses that instantly earns you street cred with the crowd. At first glance, one may consider it the deli platter we’re all familiar with, but Amazing Graze in Fort Smith, Arkansas has taken it to a whole new level.
All dressed up and ready to go somewhere fancy, charcuterie is a grown-up version that shows thought and creativity and deliberateness in a way that screams “foodie.” Put out a charcuterie board, and you’re sure to have satisfied palates marveling at the ingenuity in the assemblage and the wonderful meeting of flavors that play off one another so well. Naturally, with the wide acclaim these simple boards receive, they make a welcome appearance at most any type of gathering—and they’re even a great way to satisfy a craving for something with a little panache.
Simplicity aside, creating a truly complimentary board is an art, much like developing a great recipe. With so many different meats and widely diverse types of cheeses, the available selection is pretty much an endless one, but it still takes a bit of forethought and an understanding of which flavors work well together. And while some simply see a board filled with various victuals, Devan Engster, owner of Amazing Graze, sees the perfect way to spread her entrepreneurial wings.
Like many of the greatest small business owners that our country boasts, Devan found her inspiration by accident. A consummate hostess and bringer of cheeseboards, it was at the encouragement of her friends that the wife and mother of two decided to start selling her tasty creations—and Facebook agreed. Simply posting pictures on the social media site netted her tremendous response and brought her a flood of customers, and soon enough she found herself in need of a storefront.
Having a business—not to mention a brick and mortar store—meant that Devan needed a name, and her husband Rob had the perfect idea. “I didn’t want the name to limit us to cheeseboards, as I also wanted to do dessert boards and themed grazing boards,” says Devan. “I was really hoping to use the word ‘graze’ somewhere in the company name, and Rob suggested Amazing Graze. I immediately loved it because it not only indicates that we have an exceptional product but also reflects my faith, which is very important to me.”
Faith is something that she has shown much of in starting the business—most of all in opening the shop, as the endeavor hasn’t been one that has gone in the most traditional manner. “It’s been so busy that we haven’t even had time for a grand opening yet, and keeping up with demand for the boards has been a huge challenge,” says Devan, who enjoys hunting, fishing, and spending time at the lake with her family in her spare time—despite the fact that she’s a girly girl who loves a good pedicure and believes in retail therapy. “Because of the rush, the shop is not quite completely furnished; and our cash register and website aren’t even up and running. Many of the things that business owners usually have in place before they even open their doors haven’t had time to be done. We don’t even have signs at the store yet! Still, our customers have been so patient and have really extended a great deal of grace while we are getting things together.”
Those things aside, Devan has the truly important details in place; and that is precisely what is making her successful—not to mention incredibly busy, as she’s filling a void in the market that people are obviously responding to. “To my knowledge, there is not another storefront in the River Valley that sells charcuterie boards,” she notes. “Even though our selection isn’t enormous, I take pride in stocking items that can’t be found just anywhere; and the boards we prepare are beautiful, almost like a work of art. I’ve heard many of our customers say this, and it makes me incredibly proud. Each board we prepare is definitely crafted with a great deal of thought; and while there isn’t really a wrong way to make a cheese board, my goal is for the boards I prepare to be as eye appealing as they are tasty. I also think that the pairings we do make the boards stand out.”
Those pairings feature gourmet honey, meats, cheeses, jams, nuts, olives, pickles, veggies, fruits, sauces, and crackers that Devan curates from various suppliers and manufacturers as well as local sources. And while the offerings of the boards certainly warrant attention, so, too, do the boards themselves, as the company has recently partnered with local artisan Aaron Price, husband of Beth Price of Belle Starr Antiques in downtown Fort Smith, to sell his beautiful cutting boards in the shop.
The concept at Amazing Graze is a unique one, and likely the reason that it has been seeing so great a response since opening. In addition to preparing made-to-order grazing boards in different sizes, they also offer take-out boxes and individual “lunchboxes.” When it comes to the boards, customers have their choice of three options, each tailored to appeal to a different need. With “Buy a Board” the price includes the actual wooden board, and customers can then bring the board back repeatedly for “fills.” The second option, “Bring Your Own Board” costs less and allows the use of a customer-supplied cutting board or serving tray—even, in some cases, pie plates. Option three is their take-out boxes, which simply use a bakery box instead of a board.
In addition to the cheeseboards that were the launch point of the store, they’ve since added some retail and gift items as well as doing just what Devan had hoped when she started, branching out into making specialty grazing boards for special occasions and even sinfully delicious dessert boards. Regardless of what she’s making, however, it is the satisfaction of seeing a job well done that makes Devan feel truly accomplished. “My favorite part of all of this has been seeing pleased customers,” she says. “I love it when a customer really enjoys something on their board and comes back to purchase more of that item. When someone buys a board and returns for a fill nearly every week, I know we’re doing it right. I also love introducing customers to new products. Getting someone to try something new and having them love it is a great feeling.”
That great feeling has been one that she has shared with her sister, Holly Shotzman, who has been with her nearly every day since Amazing Graze opened its doors to the foodies of Fort Smith. Clearly, the shop is one that has full family support; and with so much support on her side, she has high hopes for the future of her business. “I would really love to offer a dine-in lunch and dinner here in the shop or in our courtyard, whether it’s an individual plate or a charcuterie board to share,” she says. “I’d also like to offer beer and wine…Picture coming after work with several of your friends to enjoy a wine and cheese night. Who wouldn’t love that?”
So many plans, so much vision. And if the past few months have proven anything to Devan, it’s that anything is possible for those who dare to have faith and pursue their dreams.
Amazing Graze is located at 115 North 10th Street, Suite A107, Fort Smith, Arkansas. For more information, visit Amazing Graze on Facebook.