Iverstine Farms and Bites & Boards have opened their doors to the public at updated locations. The businesses are separate entities, but Galen Iverstine, of Iverstine Farms, and Robyn Nicosia Parker, of Bites & Boards, have ties that go way back.
Parker’s premier cheese boutique is known for its charcuterie boards, but she also houses artisan cheeses, meats, jams and honey at 8201 Village Plaza Court in The Village at Willow Grove on Perkins Road. Just a few miles down at 7731 Perkins Road, Iverstine opened his new shop offering breakfast, lunch, grab-and-go sides and a butcher shop.
“We go above and beyond to make sure that if it’s not something we’d feed to our family, we’re not going to feed it to your family,” Parker said. “We want to source only the best.”
Parker and her late husband, Johnny Nicosia, met Iverstine’s parents, Brenda and Jack Iverstine, at Victory Bible Fellowship, now Victory Harvest Church, in 1977. What started out as two “young dating couples,” turned into family friends — going to Bible study together and eventually having kids at the same time.
In 2006, Parker’s husband died after a long battle with brain cancer. After he passed, Jack Iverstine hired Parker as an executive assistant for Iverstine Farms, a position that eventually led her to own her own food business as well. Now, 16 years later, Parker and Iverstine are feeding Baton Rouge through locally-sourced meat, cheese and produce.
Bites & Boards started as a cheeseboard delivery service through social media and transformed into a 374-square-foot store in Willow Grove. The catalyst to Parker’s move to a bigger store, however, was centered around alcohol. After all, wouldn’t it feel wrong to sell cheese without wine?
The week before she was set to open her old space, the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control shut the store down — informing her that she didn’t meet the 500-square-foot minimum square footage to sell alcohol. Parker said she was devastated. Nevertheless, sans wine, the space was open for a year before Parker began to feel suffocated.
“With only 374 square feet, I was overloaded very quickly. Some weeks, I was putting out 200 board orders,” Parker said. “I had no kitchen, so I was having to build out everything on the island.”
Her new location, which boasts 1,300 square feet, includes a prep kitchen, three large tables to host charcuterie board classes and an impending alcohol certification from the ATC. In the future, Parker’s goal is to sell a curated selection of natural, clean wines with the help of her sommelier, Scott Higgins.
However, if not for the joy of cheese, Parker simply wants this larger space to support other small businesses. She hopes to build community through monthly pop-up shops and collaborations with other local, female-owned businesses that may not have a storefront.
“I really want to establish this flagship store as a space that is inviting. I want people to enjoy their time here. I feel like people even did at the small space, so even more so here,” Parker said.
Parker’s heart for people is also apparent through the now 2,000 people she’s taught in her charcuterie-building classes. She teaches the art of charcuterie using her 7 C’s Cheeseboard Method, which includes the 7 C’s to craft the perfect cheeseboard: Cheese, color, charcuterie, crunch, crackers, condiments and chocolate.
“In my classes, when I go to take your pictures, I tell you, ‘Say cheese,’ and I don’t think that’s an accident, that that’s the word they choose. I do feel like food is a reason to bring everyone together,” Parker said.
Iverstine expressed the same sentiments about food and community. Both Iverstine and Parker said they grew up gathering and connecting with people around food.
“In Baton Rouge and Louisiana, everything is centered around food,” Iverstine said. “You finish lunch and you say, ‘What’s for dinner?’ We’re always looking at the next meal.”
In 2010, Iverstine sold items at the farmer’s market, then opened a butcher shop in 2016 at their previous location on Perkins Road. They have since moved down the street, next to Sushi Yama.
With additional space, Iverstine’s is currently serving lunch and has plans to add breakfast soon. The dining room includes a sleek, modern food counter filled with various meats, pasta and sides. The store also hosts a butcher shop, racks of locally-owned products and a grab-and-go refrigerator.
But it wasn’t always like this. Iverstine said the previous shop was only selling raw meat, which limited their customer base to home cooks. At the new shop, Iverstine hopes to inspire others to cook at home by introducing high cuts of meat right out of the butcher shop.
“If you go on Google right now and look at our reviews, there’s very little about the meat. It is mostly about the service. We pride ourselves on that because people don’t get it everywhere. So we’re really putting the customer first and introducing them to new cuts of meat and how to cook it,” Iverstine said.
Iverstine first fell in love with agriculture when he interned on a farm in New Hampshire after he and his father purchased a farm in Kentwood. He was particularly interested in the idea of bringing products directly to consumers because this kept transparency and built trust with clients.
“We can tell you the farm [the animal] came from, the diet of the animal and how it was processed,” Iverstine said. “People can know not only the quality and integrity of the product, but they know they’re supporting a local business. I think that’s something Baton Rouge, more than most communities, really values.”
Iverstine’s knack for food originated from holidays, birthdays and tailgates. He remembers a particular moment with his grandmother before she passed.
“My grandmother has a spaghetti sauce recipe that she never really wrote down, but I’d always watch her make it. Right before she died, I made a batch, and she’s a pretty harsh critic. To hear her say, ‘Man, you cooked this spaghetti sauce as close to mine as anybody,’ that was rewarding,” Iverstine said.
For the future, Iverstine hopes to become a household name in Baton Rouge for meat. He also wants to place his items in grocery stores and other outlets as a convenience for shoppers.
And, if you’re thinking the obvious, know that Iverstine Farms provides charcuterie to Bites & Boards classes. Iverstine thinks there’s a “great opportunity” to work together again.
Both Iverstine and Parker rely on the power of community and the personal stories of their locally-sourced products to expand their businesses.