Studio IX: Alejandro, Good morning. Thanks for taking a moment to sit down with me.
Alejandro: Of course.
Studio IX: So tell us who you are and what you do?
Alejandro: My name's Alejandro Gomez. I am a Colombian Virginian. I would like to say that. I was born and raised in Colombia, then came to school in the US, in upstate New York, and my first job was in Virginia, at an organic beef farm in Richmond. I loved Virginia so I always kept that in my mind. I went back to Colombia as I was focused on working in tropical agriculture. Finding ways to make agriculture in Colombia more valuable.
That's when we got into cheese making. We decided that making cheese out of water buffalo milk would be something new. Something that would bring value. That took us a while. We're going to be 10 years into this business in November. 10 years of making cheese in Colombia, and four exporting that cheese to the United States. 2014 was when we started Buf. Buf is a branch of our company in Colombia, dedicated to sales in the US and representing the brand and the product. So we make the best out of tropical Colombia into the markets of the world.
Studio IX: What do you enjoy most about the work?
Alejandro: I enjoy when I open someone's fridge and our cheese is in there. It's the best harvest of all because it means you are in people's lives, and it means they are sharing it. So we might do logistics and make cheese and deal with water buffalo and be on a horse and deal with grass and trucks and cheese in planes, but once you finally go to a friend's house, or a friend goes to a friend's house and they open the fridge and they see Būf in there and they send a picture, I think that's the best reward.
Studio IX: What are you passionate about? Does it play a part in what you do?
Alejandro: Definitely. I'm passionate about agriculture. I was born as the son of a farmer who always took prices as the given. For him, prices were given, but my passion was to set a price for things we were doing, so my partners and I, that's what we did with buffalo milk. We also have another endeavor with chocolates in that we take cacao pods and make that into chocolate in Colombia. We are not selling cacao beans at a price that the market gives you, but we're selling chocolate at a price we want to put on the product. So I'm passionate about adding value to that side of agriculture that has always been very stable and maybe neutral.
I'm also passionate about being outside. I really enjoy the outdoors and that's why I enjoy my job as well. But I enjoy being here in Charlottesville, because the outdoors are amazing. I love being in the mountains, camping, going on a bike ride, on a motorcycle ride. I just took a very nice ride to North Carolina, and that really feeds my passion.
Studio IX: Can you share a memorable story with us? A pivotal moment?
Alejandro: Yes. One of the hardest and most memorable moments was when we presented our cheese to Whole Foods. We got an appointment through a friend who also had a startup company with cured meats and salamis, so he got us an appointment with the cheese buyer. We knew nothing about her. We walked up to her office in Austin. We had a one-hour appointment. Once we walked in, she says, "Okay, guys, we're going to do this in 15 minutes. I've got no time and I never purchase cheese from South America, but I'm just being polite with my friend. So let's get it done."
And my partner, who's from Virginia, said, "Okay, Alejo, tell her the story," and he just throws me that ball. And that was the elevator pitch that I was not prepared to give, but it worked out. I said, "Cathy, if you're not going to be the one who buys this cheese, someone else is going to do it and you're going to regret it. Just taste this. It's amazing." And she did. The meeting was two hours long and five more people came into the meeting. She was making videos, and the next month, she was in Colombia, on a horse, visiting our farms. So I think that was the tipping point for our business and for our endeavor. We had no customers at that point. It was the first time we presented.
Studio IX: What year was that?
Alejandro: 2014. April 14th.
Studio IX: What's an aspect of your work that might surprise people to know?
Alejandro: They're surprised about water buffalo. People don't really understand that water buffalo are not bison, or that cheese made out of water buffalo milk is not going to be spicy or powerful. It's surprising to see that even the most knowledgeable people in the food industry just don't understand that water buffalo is another species, different from a cow, different from a bison. And that's what we enjoy telling the story about. But interestingly enough, everyone knows water buffalo cheese is the good stuff, so that's why it's not a hard sale.
Studio IX: Where do you see yourself and the industry in five to 10 years?
Alejandro: We are not going to be much bigger than we are now. It's a limited supply. We just need to be where people are the happiest, and that's getting to the right customer, people who really value your product. So I see Buf being sold in most of the specialty retailers and basically the specialty restaurants in the area. Also, since we have nationwide distribution, soon we will be sold in many of the bigger cities in the United States.
In five years we see Buf as one of the dairy companies in Colombia who will change the agricultural side of the country. We've seen it already, people who are becoming our suppliers, people who work for our company who are seeing the world in a different way. We're proud of becoming, in that sense, the ambassadors of Colombia in the United States with a good story to tell and a beautiful product to share, as opposed to other stories about Colombia that are not fun, especially for a Colombian. If you were born during times of political unrest, if you were born during the whole FARC thing. When you bring something beautiful, delicious and happy about Colombia, I think that changes the image of a country and therefore, what you perceive of it and its future.
Studio IX: Well said.
Studio IX: What do you enjoy most about working here, about being at Studio IX?
Alejandro: I'm just so productive here, compared to my shared space back home. I have a shared space there because I have this one here, and I really envy what Alexa has here. I'm always like, "Oh, Alexa" you're here, being able to concentrate, everything works, you're next to your house. It’s amazing. I enjoy the different areas and environments through out Studio IX. You have the meeting rooms. You also have the gallery and the café. You have your own space, so that makes it variable without you losing concentration. It also allows you to meet with people and do it in an informal but practical way, so that gives productivity.
I also enjoy seeing people doing other stuff around me. If I had just one type of business around me, it would be dull, but if you have other people who you can talk to and ask questions and just debate stuff, I think it just brings more richness to your day to day. Because work is one thing, but then you're living it, so make it a lifestyle. I think that's what Studio IX is. It becomes a lifestyle that's your home away from home.
Studio IX: Beautiful.
Studio IX: You crushed it.
Alejandro: Was it it good?
Studio IX: Yes.
Alejandro: Thank you.
Studio IX: Thank you, Alejandro.