Max Carpenter and Alex Flacco are assistant managers at Big John's Pacific Food Importers, or "ass mans," as one coworker calls them. When asked how they became ass mans, Max said they just "started bagging nuts and worked their way up."

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Big John's is a wonderland of European foods in an old brick warehouse in Sodo. Owner "Big John" Croce began his career as an importer in 1971, with a Plymouth Valiant loaded with olive oil. Alex and Max share his passion for imported foods, especially cheese.

"It's about broadening people's horizons," Max said. "You give them a few samples, and they get interested, and 40 minutes later, they have four pieces of cheese, and they say, 'I guess I'm going to have a party.'" Big John's first customers were local immigrants, including Max's and Alex's families (from Greece and Switzerland, respectively). I tried a few of their favorite cheeses, like the Saveur du Maquis, a cheese with a salt and rosemary rind that dissolves on the tongue like a buttery cloud, and Abbaye de Tamié, which has been produced by monks in the French Alps since 1132. The best smoked Gouda I've had tasted like Kraft Singles in comparison. recommended

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