Sunday, May 19, 2024

Julia Hallman is the new owner of the Formaggio Kitchen stores. (Photo: Formaggio Kitchen via Instagram)

The Formaggio Kitchen trio of specialty food shops has been sold to Julia Hallman, general manager of the flagship location in Cambridge’s Huron Village, by founders Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal.

The Gurdals, who say they have retired, ran the stores for four decades – until Thursday. It announced officially Friday after leaks on social media.

The change of ownership had been in the works in earnest since the spring, according to Hallman, who said by phone Friday that she could not discuss financial aspects of the deal. The purchase was made with her husband, Aaron Rubin, a lecturer at Smith College.

“We’ve really been discussing it for the past five years or so. It’s always been kind of in the works, [but talks accelerated] once we were in the new space,” Hallman said of negotiations for a handoff between her and the Gurdals. Formaggio Kitchen relocated to the old Fresh Pond Market locale at 358 Huron Ave. from 244 Huron Ave. last year; when rescuing the closing grocery store in 2019, the plan was to keep both businesses – intentions upended by Covid and renovation costs at an aging building.

Cheese at Formaggio Kitchen in Huron Village. (Photo: Cha Cha W. via Yelp)

The financial hit from the move wasn’t seen as an impetus for the Gurdals’ retirement. “The store was such an overwhelming success from day one that it didn’t really have an impact on their decision,” said Hallman, 38, who has been with Formaggio for more than 15 years. “They always wanted to have someone who was a longtime employee to carry on.”

Hallman first encountered the company as a Tufts University undergraduate.

As a customer, she said, she was drawn to the connection that staff enjoyed with the producers whose goods they sold: “The passion the cheesemongers had for what they were doing was inspiring to see,” Hallman said. She joined the Formaggio team at the Huron Avenue location in 2007 for what was supposed to be a three-month seasonal position, but was soon promoted to buyer.

After her first scouting trip to Turkey with the Gurdals, Hallman said she saw the potential of a future with the company. During her tenure, she has worked in all areas of the Huron Avenue store and in 2017 was named its general manager.

“Julia has proven her passion and dedication over the last 15 years and we couldn’t think of a better person to maintain Formaggio Kitchen’s core values and continue its legacy for many decades to come,” Ihsan Gurdal said in a press release.

Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal in the early days of the Formaggio Kitchen stores. (Photo: Formaggio Kitchen via Instagram)

Formaggio Kitchen, known for its curated selection of cheeses, wines and specialty foods from artisans throughout the United States and Europe, began in 1978. The Gurdals say they met at the original Formaggio Kitchen location in Harvard Square. (Other highlights over the years: The couple built the first “cheese cave,” or ripening room, in a U.S. retail cheese shop in 1996; Ihsan Gurdal was inducted into France’s Guilde des Fromagers in 2006 and in 2008 got the title of Chevalier du l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole from the French government – an honor conferred on those considered to have made outstanding contributions to the support and promotion of French agricultural products.)

The chain now has locations in Huron Village and Kendall Square, Cambridge – the latter opened in 2018 as part of a 40th-year celebration. Its online business based in Cambridge ships nationwide. There’s a South End, Boston, location as well, and a franchised outlet in New York City’s Essex Market.

Little is expected to change from a customer perspective. Ihsan Gurdal “always let me run this business as if it were my own, and I always tried to push the boundaries,” Hallman said. “My goal is to work with all three shops and see if we can work more collaboratively – to troubleshoot with all locations to see how we can run more smoothly.”

There are, however, some plans for summertime that she said weren’t ready to be revealed.

“After years of mentorship by Ihsan and Valerie, I feel honored to carry on the traditions of this historic small business,” Hallman said in a press release.