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Sue Conley and Peg Smith, Cowgirl Creamery

Author: Luke Straub
July, 2019 Issue

Sue Conley and Peg Smith didn’t always live in the Bay Area—they had to migrate west, like true cowgirls. The co-founders of Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods met at the University of Tennessee after Conley’s upbringing in Washington D.C. and Smith’s formative years in the southern U.S. Before becoming artisan cheese pioneers, Peg spent 17 years at Berkeley’s visionary restaurant, Chez Panisse, and Sue co-owned Bette’s Oceanview Diner, also in Berkeley.

The two started making and distributing dairy products in the 1990s, including Cowgirl Creamery products, which have become world-renowned and lifted the North Bay’s reputation as an elite producer of artisan cheeses. When not running Tomales Bay Foods and its various operations from its Petaluma headquarters, Peg enjoys playing guitar and listening to her vinyl record collection, while Sue likes hiking, swimming and practices Tai Chi.

How many hours a week do you watch TV, if any? Is that too little, too much or just right?
Sue: Seven hours.  A half hour of news and a half hour of an entertaining show per day. It’s just right.

If you were a master sculptor for a day, what would you sculpt?
Peg: A large cat in movement.

Are you serious-minded or a jokester? Why?
Peg: Both. Depends on the situation.
Sue: Serious minded with a sense of humor.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Sue: Whatever is in season at the farmers’ market.
Peg:  Chicken or steak and eggs, accompanied by a delicious salad of arugula and vegetables.

What is your favorite style of music and how often do you listen to it?
Peg: I listen to music everyday, and I love classic rock, bluegrass, old time, old country, rhythm and blues, and opera.
Sue: I like most styles of music—rock and roll when I exercise, classical when I relax, country when working in the yard and blues while driving in the car.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Sue: In business, it’s to hire people who are smarter and better than yourself.
Peg: When working at something new or different, don't be afraid to fail, but try your hardest not to.

Are you more of a rule breaker or a rule keeper?
Peg:  I would say that I am more of a rule keeper at work and a rule bender otherwise.
Sue:  Rule breaker for sure. But only if laws are not broken and people are not harmed.  

If you could rid the world of one fear, what would it be? Why?
Sue: Fear of war because it is never the answer to conflict resolution and always hurts the most vulnerable people.
Peg: I would rid the fear of people who don't look or act like you. It’s an unnecessary fear.



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