Co-owner Michael Magnifico, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township, helps customer Nancy Good, of Smithville, with some of the cheese and spread samples at Magnifico's Say Cheese in Smithville.

Staff photo by Danny Drake

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The free cheese samples are a popular draw at Magnifico’s Say Cheese, and on busy weekends a line can stretch around the cheese and gourmet shop for those wanting a taste of the products.

Offering cheese and spread samples is no small investment, but one that pays dividends, said Michael Magnifico, 63, who co-owns the store with Robert Gaw, 54, both of Galloway Township.

“Some people just come in to eat,” he said. “However, in the end it does pay. I’d say eight out of 10 people end up buying something.”

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On a typical weekend, the business can end up offering 10 pounds of cheese as samples, Gaw said, adding that it can be nearly 40 pounds during heavily attended fairs and festivals at Smithville.

“Samples do work. If they’re good, they will sell your product. And we put out things that are delicious, and then we give suggestions what to do with each one of these,” Magnifico said.

The business carries more than 50 cheeses — domestic and imported from counties such as Italy, France, Amsterdam, Ireland, Spain and England — ranging in price from $12.99 to $32.99 per pound.

It also sells gourmet spreads, jellies, dips, soup and cake mixes and more than 100 types of hot sauce, as well as artwork, lamps, vases, cookie jars and other items.

Gaw said the packaging of these food products can make a big difference as customers browse the store — experience has shown the look of the label does matter.

One year, the business carried a jelly with a black-and-gold label that did not sell, which the owners attributed to the packaging.

“I guess it didn’t look appealing — maybe if it was on a bottle of champagne, but not on jelly,” he said. “That’s not what they’re used to, the white label.”

In a previous career, Magnifico was an ice cream vendor at a New Brunswick indoor flea market.

In the 1990s, he and Gaw moved to Galloway Township, where Magnifico worked as a dealer at Bally’s in Atlantic City but soon began considering another line of work and eyed up Smithville.

There was already an ice cream shop nearby, so Magnifico said the two men went into the cheese business.

Still in dairy, the joke is, “We’re still using the same cow,” Gaw said.

Starting the gourmet shop in 1999 involved a nearly $50,000 investment — for refrigeration equipment, plumbing and inventory, Magnifico said.

The shop opened on Thanksgiving Day. Three years ago, the business moved to a location in Smithville four doors down from its old location, a move that proved beneficial, Magnifico said.

“We’ve had our best two years,” he said.

U.S. retail sale of cheese in 2011 hit almost $19 billion in 2011, increasing more than 6 percent from the previous year, according to food research firm Mintel.

Magnifico said being in business for oneself has its advantages, but also requires a major commitment, and not just in capital.

“You have to have a strong desire to want to work long hours,” he said.

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