It’s hard not to smile around Sarah and Boo Simms. The twin sisters and co-owners of Santa Monica cheese shop Lady and Larder are effervescent, exuding a familiarity that welcomes you like a lifelong friend. With over 70,000 Instagram followers, these two have single-handedly changed the cheese board game with dynamic, cornucopian spreads that nab the attention of celebrities like Oprah—first through their catering outfit La Femme Epicure, then out of their kaleidoscopic storefront.
Leveraging texture, realism, and dare I say joy, the Simms have infused a juicy spark of vitamin D into an at-times-stodgy cheese culture—and they’ve done it through crises both global and personal. After COVID-pivoting with the rest of us, the twins were dealt another blow when Sarah was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in 2021. Thanks to aggressive treatment, she’s now cancer free, advocating for the American Cancer Society, and sitting on the board of directors of the L.A. chapter of the American Red Cross. She also hosts daily huddles to check in on her employees’ health, serves as VP and education chair of the California Cheese Guild, and plays pickleball. When not at the shop, Boo works as Creative Director of a national restaurant group and volunteers painting murals for schools in her community (which you can see on her personal art account @wyliewestcreative).
When we spoke in August, the twins had just returned from ACS, and Boo was nine months pregnant. Read on for a glimpse into their busy, rose-tinted world.
This interview has been edited for length.
culture: I like to start by asking people how they got into the world of cheese! I think I read somewhere that your parents taught you everything you know about snacking.
SARAH SIMMS (SS): We grew up in an extremely food-centric household—we come from a couple generations of restaurateurs—so our family has always been a food family. Both of our parents are also incredible entertainers, so we thought it was very normal that if anyone came to your house,
they just started putting out food and making drinks. To this day, they’re still cooler than us. They’re the coolest people we know. Like, our dad is a hobbyist winemaker, he makes his own charcuterie. They have olive trees, they make their own olive oil. My mom has chickens, she’s constantly experimenting with new cocktails, syrups, tinctures.
Where do they live?
SS: They live in the Monterey Bay area, but we grew up in L.A. Definitely California girls through and through.
BOO SIMMS (BS): Sarah and I both went to the same college [San Diego State University], but Sarah studied hospitality and tourism management with a focus in restaurants. And then she worked in hotels after college and became a somme—
SS: Really into wine for a while.
BS: Yes, really into wine. Then went back to school, to Cordon Bleu in Seattle, and she’s also been in restaurants, and then a private chef for the last 10 to 12 years for a bunch of different wild clients. Then I was a graphic design major turned multimedia arts major. But always, since our first job—which for both of us when we were 14, was at a burger place making milkshakes—always in restaurants. It was kind of cool when we finally figured out that whatever we worked on, we both had been studying different sides of what we needed to do to make one thing. It’s kind of how we run our shop now, Sarah leads the food and beverage side, then branding and marketing’s kind of my side. That’s how we ended up with the cheese boards.
SS: At that time, Instagram was just starting. And I could never talk about my clients because of NDAs, but I could post pictures of my work and my food, and Instagram kind of became a portfolio. People would just DM and be like, “Oh, could I get this?” There were people in L.A. that had private chefs that did all their meals and food for them… the only other thing you could go to [for event food] was the plastic tray at the grocery store or a full-bore catering company with minimums, service charges. And Boo and I at the time, we got to a place where we were doing events start to finish. And we realized that catering is such intense work.
BS: It’s just so much labor. And we’d find ourselves at the end of the day packing up our cars, like, “What are we doing?”
SS: Like, there has to be another way. And, quite frankly, the statistics in working in kitchens, the executive chef drop-off for females? Huge, because you start having kids and then you’re like, “I don’t wanna be gone every night for dinner…” I kept thinking over and over, there has to be a way to build a business doing work I care about where I can be done at six o’clock and home for dinner.
And you guys didn’t have kids yet at that point?
SS: No, but we knew we wanted to! Actually, this is crazy, I found out I was pregnant three weeks after I bought the domain, and I think if it had been reversed, I never would’ve bought it and started it. So, the whole first year of building Lady & Larder, I was literally waddling around L.A. pregnant.
And how many kids do you have now, between the two of you?
BS: Well, almost three, she’s here, she’s just inside. I’m due with my second daughter next month [Bertie Lou was born two weeks after this interview] and then I have a 13-month-old, Mavis, and Sarah has Maverick, who’s our first born. He’s five. And they’re basically siblings. I mean, our kids are very close.
SS: Maverick’s first word was cheese. I was five days out of the hospital, and I had him strapped to me making boards for Christmas.
You’re known for having tons of produce on these cornucopia-style boards, do you go to farmers’ markets a lot?
SS: Yeah, even to this day, the boards change based on what’s available at the market. We still shop the market three days a week, and we have spreadsheets. Like, right now, there’s so many varieties of melon at the market that we keep notes from last season to remember when they drop, which flavor, which texture we like.
BS: We’re looking for large doses of color. We’re looking for something that energizes a space. We’ve always talked about cheese boards as, at their core, things that create connection. You put one down in front of [people], and it’s a magnet. People come together, and they eat at this board. They hopefully have a discussion about what they’re eating. So we’re trying to create—
SS: Authentic human connection.
BS: Right. And so the easiest way to do that, it’s high impact, big color, a nice balance. It’s like painting, right? You’re balancing, it’s restraint, it’s texture. And it’s wildly original every single time. And I think the other part is…we don’t touch the ingredient very much. I’m talking leaves on, stems on. We really look at how it arrives, and then let that piece shine. You know, if the strawberries are looking more darling than usual—
SS: We call their little green tops their collars! And sometimes the collars are just like—
BS: Going off, you know?
SS: We do talk about restraint a lot in the kitchen because we do live in a state that is so abundant in produce and options.
BS: Sarah orders the produce, she’s texting the farmers every week.
SS: I like photos from the field.
BS: It’s very intimate.
SS: They know how emotional I get about produce.
The boards are like a metaphor for your shop. You want the most colorful stuff on the boards, and now in your store, you have the most colorful stuff on your shelves. Your store’s very colorful, I love the tinted glass windows.
BS: Yeah, it’s the same concept. It’s like, how do we spread joy? How do we create things that make people smile?
SS: In the very beginning we went and visited every cheese shop in southern California before we ever opened a brick and mortar and the general consensus—and not that it’s a bad thing—was that most cheese shops have darker woods and kind of an Old-World feel inside. And that’s because a lot of ‘em are doing European-style cheeses. And we knew that our shop was gonna be 100-percent domestic and 100-percent American and really have this California sense of place. And so, when Boo drew up the logos the first time, the logo we picked was the one that I just couldn’t stop smiling at, because we wanted something that evoked joy and color and brightness.
BS: The goal was always approachable and playful, and you know, it just depends on the space. Like with those windows, I was 40 weeks pregnant on a lift installing that vinyl.
SS: You weren’t sure if it would work!
BS: That’s why I was like, I have to do it myself! I remember seeing an art installation online where somebody had used stained glass to create, at certain points of the day, lighting in this museum that would change in the ceiling based off of where the sun was coming through the stained glass—kind of like a church or cathedral. I was like, “Oh my God, what if we could do that with colored vinyl?”
SS: The light at three or four o’clock is magical. It all shines rainbows.
BS: It was very experimental. Sarah was in chemo at the time, she was micromanaging this project from—
SS: They wouldn’t let me get out of the chair!
BS: Yeah, I was like, “You’re not allowed to help or stand up.” I remember the first time the sun set through it…It’s perfect, it came together, it is the most mighty little shop you’ve ever seen. It’s very small square footage in the front, but we do a lot of business in that little tiny square footage. And I think what’s most exciting is that for so many years, we didn’t have that.
Your Instagrams make me want to ask you about fashion instead of food, because you have such a unique look. And at first I thought, “That has nothing to do with cheese.” But that’s what catches my eye about your business! It’s stunning, but it’s also approachable. It’s not high fashion, like “You can’t sit with us.” You’re having fun. That’s in your food and in your clothes! You have great Halloween costumes, and it looks like you wear pretty fun COVID masks.
BS: Oh my God, yeah. I built that mask in the peak of dark COVID times. It was a particularly dark day in the world, and I got out a hot glue gun and glued curtain fringe on my mask and went to the grocery store. And the amount of people who were just laughing out loud…we were seeing people smile just with their eyes. I remember coming back and realizing that’s all it took, some hot glue and sparkly fringe.
Or some laminate on your windows!
BS: Not taking anything too seriously! That’s how I pitched that to Sarah, like “Let’s try it out. If you hate it, we’ll take it down, but I think it actually could be really impactful.”
Did you guys set out to disrupt the charcuterie board space? Was it as simple as, “Why are these boring when produce exists?” It feels so obvious now, but I think people were a little afraid of abundance! It’s that Mary Oliver quote, “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
SS: I don’t think we set out to build something that felt so maximal in style. We just live in a place that has so much abundance and seasonality, that part came really naturally.
BS: If you walk to a California farmers’ market, that’s what it is, it is literally piles and heaps of color and beauty. Flower deliveries [were] more of the thing we sought to disrupt, like what if someone on your birthday delivered this to you instead of flowers? What if you could have flowers on here, but you could also eat it and share it with your family?
SS: We would go to our great farmers and just say, “We’re looking for raisins, but what about if they were on the stem still, does that exist?” Or really celebrating things in the most organic or unprocessed way possible, and really connecting people to the full story. We love when the herbs are flowering or have started to go and things that normal farmers didn’t think were sellable…all of those moments connect people back to nature and the seasons and make for something that is just so beautiful and slightly imperfect—
SS and BS: Yeah!
SS: We grew up in this culture where at the grocery store everything is so waxed and perfect and there’s something so moving about really celebrating nature in its pure form.
So, you mentioned something earlier about wild clients and NDAs, and I feel like it’s my duty to ask if you’re allowed to mention any of them.
SS: For private chef-ing, the last couple that I worked for, for the last six years or so, was Ellen [DeGeneres] and Portia [DeRossi].
SS: Which allowed me to focus on vegan cooking, which was not something that I did before, which is [an] even deeper connection to plants and plant-based food.
You guys have this incredible story that you are twin sisters who started your business on the back of a napkin. It’s so Hollywood. Is the napkin thing true?
BS: I wish we had this napkin because I feel like a fool that we didn’t save it. I feel like it would’ve been something good to frame.
SS: I did bring this [holds up a pen] to show you because the napkin thing is not original in our family. Our dad religiously uses these felt-tipped pens, which now I use religiously—
BS: I have a blue one. [Holds up the same pen.]
SS: Yeah. He always had one on every shirt he ever had, and in restaurants he would pull it out and always make notes on napkins.
BS: He does a lot of napkin work. And so I think that’s always been a natural planning space. So, our family gets together for the holidays. We were at a bar in town, and we always try to share every year, what’s everyone’s goal, so that as a family, we can all kind of support that person and whatever they’re trying to accomplish. And so we, as sisters, were talking about our goals for business and for work. And we aligned on more of an idea than a goal. And when we looked at it on a napkin, it was like, this is pretty low overhead.
SS: We funded the whole start-up on three credit cards.
BS: And we had a friend of ours, Carmen, who had been at Hollywood Market selling Iberico ham, who wasn’t using her meat slicer. And she donated us her meat slicer. That was a big cost item. Outside of that, it was a lot of, “Okay, let’s try it out. Everyone keep your jobs for now.”
SS: It’s still very, very surreal that we built anything that has resonated with people in such a deep way. And I think a part of that was, I will forever be grateful that Instagram was a platform where we could really be ourselves and have honest connection with people. And that applies to last year’s health scare. We decided right off the bat, we were so open with who we were on Instagram and in the shop. And since I worked actively in the shop, there was no way that I was gonna lose all of my hair and not be able to explain what was going on. So, we decided to be transparent about it out the gate. And I think that honesty with our customers has always come back threefold—
SS: It’s always been a really positive thing, even though feeling vulnerable is hard.
You guys opened this business, then COVID happened, and then you got cancer. Right? Was that the order of events?
SS: Yes, yes it was. [laughs]
So, the fact that you’re even laughing and smiling now is pretty impressive!
SS: Life’s wild.
Are you feeling better, is it in remission?
SS: I feel wonderful, thank you so much for asking. I think July was one year since the diagnosis, and I’m probably seven months clear of chemo. Now I’m in remission. Hair’s growing back as you can see, very exciting. I just feel so grateful for the perspective that cancer gave me…It’s really like you get to decide every day how you’re gonna show up in the world, and it’s a really intentional choice to show up with joy and grace and positivity. I wake up every morning…if this sounds silly, it sounds silly, it’s true. Every day is a gift. Nothing is that hard anymore, because even on hard days, I’m like, “I’m here, I’m alive. Let’s go.” I feel now that…I have a mission with all the people I love and care about to make sure that they are showing up and getting their checkups and appointments. I don’t know that there’s a cooler part of running a business than making decisions in how you get to impact your community. As soon as there becomes enough to donate or give back to organizations we care about, whether that’s working with the Cheese Culture Coalition to teach education to BIPOC kids in the Girl Scout community in Inglewood, or we host blood drives four times a year here…sometimes it’s just us sending a board to a women’s reproductive justice organization so they can fundraise.
Has this experience changed anything about your employee management? I know it can be so hard for small businesses to be competitive with benefits, but then folks in food service are always in such precarious positions when it comes to insurance and prevention.
SS: When we started the business—this was before I even got cancer—we wrote down things that were not offered to us in hospitality jobs over the years that we wish had been offered. And the number one thing was fully paid PPO health insurance. That had never been offered in one job I’d ever had in a hotel. Even in some of the bigger hotels, health insurance would be supplemented or matched, but you still had to pay for it out of your paycheck. And it was usually HMO.
BS: This ties into being a responsible business owner where you sit down and you make your belief system. Here’s what we believe is the right thing to do as a business owner.
SS: So, a little over two years ago, I met with an insurance consultant and put together the framework for what it would cost us to do, with our full-time staff, which I think now we’re about 13 people. I’m so proud to say that a little over a year ago, we did hit that goal. And everyone here that is a full-time employee has access to 100-percent fully paid PPO health insurance, which, like the day I signed the agreement, just makes me wanna cry, ‘cause it’s something that just isn’t offered.
Yeah! That’s incredible! I was even afraid to ask this question because I didn’t want to make you guys feel bad.
SS: Oh no, you don’t. It’s something I’m so proud about. I have other small businesses that call me and are like, “How did you do it?” And it’s possible. So that’s really exciting.
Ok, for my last question, I’m borrowing a little from Hot Ones. I want to ask about this post on Sarah’s Instagram where you guys are eating a bunch of incredible-looking cheese by candlelight? In like, 2019. Parish Hill is tagged. What’s going on there?
BS: Dude, that—
SS: First can we just say what fans we are of Rachel and Peter. I’m sure your readers will know about Parish Hill. Boo, you tell the story about how this night happened.
BS: So, I flew to Boston for my other job. And I had, like, six hours before I had to be back at the airport, and I texted Sarah. I’d looked on the map and I was like, “Parish Hill…is this like Parish Hill Creamery? In driving distance?” And she’s like, “Dude, you should text Rachel.”
SS: So, I write a text, I’m like, “Rachel, we buy your cheese. You don’t know us…” it was the very beginning, you know?
BS: She texts me back and she gives me an address. And all it says is, like, would love to see you, come by. Here’s the address. Make sure you screenshot the map before you start driving, you will lose reception halfway.” I was like, okay, got it. I get on the road, and I start going up this road where there’s just lots of snow and nothing else. And I head up this driveway, and when I get up there I realize I’m at her house. She’s given me directions to her house. I go up and knock on the door and these little dogs are attacking me at the front door, and I walk in, and it’s just the two of them hanging out in their, like, robes at home. And they say hi, I get the biggest hugs. And they just welcomed me into their home to sit
at their table in their house. And I remember seeing they had a culture magazine article pinned up. There was cheese, there was fresh goat’s milk on the table.
SS: They had it all just stacked on the counter, like a cheese shop.
BS: And they’re sitting there, and I remember asking when I first sat down, “Do you mind if I record this?” Because Sarah couldn’t be there, I just felt Sarah really would’ve wanted to be there. And so I sat there for a couple of hours and we just talked about everything, about all the different cheeses, and we’re sitting there just cutting and tasting, and the dogs are hanging out at my feet. And I was just like, this is the cutest thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I just sat there thinking, I love this industry. I love cheesemakers. I love these two humans.
And then [Rachel] goes, “You gotta see this. Let’s head down the road.” So we go into what looks like, what are those little huts that the hobbits live in? It’s literally a hobbit hill, a natural hill with a door. And she says, “Take off your shoes.” And we go into this wood door, and it is a cheese aging cave that they have built into this hill. And I just remember thinking, this is artisan cheese.
SS: And they packed up all the cheeses they tasted because they wanted me to try them all!
BS: Sarah picked me up at the airport, and by the time we got to her house, it was getting dark, and Sarah has the worst lighting ever in her dining room. So we lit candles, a lot of candles on the table. And we sat there and I played that recording from my afternoon with them. And I tried to look at the labels, and I was trying to like, give her the slice as we were talking about that thing.
That is very cute.
SS: It was magical. They’re incredible humans. And I got to listen to that conversation via candlelight. It was pretty romantic.
BS: Well, when you talk to someone who knows the name of the cows where the milk is coming from—
SS: Peter makes his own cultures, no one does that.
BS: He is a cheese wizard. It’s so fun to talk to people like that. It’s really fun because our job at Lady and Larder is to tell their stories and sell these products. Our shop does not exist without people like this.
Sarah + Boo’s Go-to Host/Hostess Gifts
‘Tis the season for celebrations, so Sarah and Boo told us which items in their shop they’d bring to a party—and why they love ‘em.
- Mommenpop Aperitif (CA) + bundle of farmers’ market herbs—Perfect for a pre-dinner spritz or served on the rocks.
- Lady Crackers (CA) + Stepladder Creamery bloomy rinds (Ragged Point and Big Sur) (CA)—These ensure you always get invited back.
- Basket of seasonal farmers’ market fruit—During winter, nothing is better than California citrus. It’s like gifting literal sunshine.
- Zab’s Hot Sauce duo (CA): Original and St. Augustine style, the best best best!
- Danica Design Tapers (extra-long hand-dipped candles) wrapped in velvet ribbon (ME)—We sell these in an array of stunning colors.
- Fat Gold Extra Virgin Olive Oil tin (CA)— Insanely good small-batch olive oil.