Mark Stevens, cheesemaker for the now defunct Coles Lake Dairy, is back in business with a new group of partners, some of whom worked with him at Coles Lake. The new business, Capra Gia Cheese Company, is the same but different—which makes perfect sense, when you consider that Stevens himself says that he left but never did.
After personal and business friction prompted him to sell his share in Coles Lake last October (the dairy operated just a few more weeks after his departure), Stevens thought a change would do him good. He set up camp in Northern California but just couldn’t settle in.
“When it came down to going to another cheese house, I just couldn’t give up Georgia,” he says. “I thought I wanted a change, and then I just really wanted to come back.”
A few friends talked him into starting over, right where he had stopped. “Everyone here believed in me and believed in my product, and everyone knows I just take good care of the animals and I care about the product—it’s not just a product; it’s a passion,” he says. “I said, ‘I will only stay if I give you a portion of the company and you work with me.’”
He and his new business partners—Jeremy Bethel, Brian Hager, Heidi Lewis, Jenny Livingston O’Connor, and Matthew David Williamson—set up shop just a few miles from the old place in Carrollton. They even reclaimed Stevens’ goats, which had enjoyed a sojourn in Louisiana. They added other goats, too, and a new processing facility and kitchen, with hopes of offering classes in the future.
“There was an existing building that we’re using for housing, but the dairy is from startup,” Stevens says. “We had so many friends helping out with materials, with equipment, everything. It was such a community-driven process that friends were here working, friends were here cleaning, friends were here painting. … It just kind of all came into place like it was supposed to. That made it really easy to be here.”
Capra Gia earned its USDA certification last week and sold its first cheeses on Saturday at Carrollton’s Cotton Mill Farmers Market—the same market that launched Coles Lake cheese sales three years ago.
“It seems to be going verbatim the way it did it before,” Stevens says.
For now, Capra Gia fresh goat cheeses—plain, sweet and savory chevres, and feta—will be available at Cotton Mill and Decatur farmers markets as well as Farmers Fresh indoor market in Carrollton. As production increases, so will the number of sales venues.
Not everything’s the same as before, though. Soon-to-be-debuted products include pasteurized goat milk, yogurt and kefir; other products in the works include paneer, queso blanco, and cajeta. The first semi-aged cheeses are 30 days away; aged cheeses should be out in about 60 days.
Stevens is glad he stayed/returned. “I feel great,” he says. “I’m very excited. And very tired.”