The first 24 hours after “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara posted an elegantly arranged charcuterie board — adorned with truffle cheddar, red grapes, and local California cream cheese — earlier this week was absolutely exhilarating for Emmy Rener, the 19-year-old mastermind behind Sophisticated Spreads.

“It was crazy,” said Rener, who will be attending the University of Southern California as a freshman this fall. “I mean, I just sat there and every minute I would refresh my page and there would be another hundred followers. I’ll never forget that feeling.”

Rener launched Sophisticated Spreads during quarantine while she was taking a gap year after graduating high school in Southern California. She had taken floristry classes in high school and always had an eye for presentation. To her, cheese boards were the perfect mix of artistry and food. Over the course of a year, Sophisticated Spreads has grown exponentially, reaching influencers and celebrities alike. But it wasn’t until Vergara posted Rener’s over-the-top board that she gained nationwide traction.

“I had 22,000 followers and in two days, I got 5000 more followers,” Rener said. “People are commenting. They're ordering. There was an influx of orders for people who are starting to request wedding grazing tables for October of this year. I had no idea that was going to happen because I delivered to her like five other times and she never posted about it. It was just for her family’s enjoyment. It was so weird to me to finally have her post this photo and then it just go berserk on the page.”

Rener caught up with Spoon this week to chat about how she started Sophisticated Spreads, how she came to call Sofia Vergara a customer, and what’s next after she starts school.

Why specifically cheese boards? Was it something you've always enjoyed?

I love food and I love bringing together new flavors. My dad, actually, would host a lot of parties growing up and when we would have these family friend parties, he would always ask me to do the appetizer. He trained me a little bit on what a good presentation is. So I started making boards for just family. Over the years, I obviously got better. Then I had the opportunity to fly out to Miami last March, and I did a huge spread for 55-60 people. That was before I even had a business or anything like that. It was just a friend who asked me to do a spread for her. I did this really just thinking of helping out a friend. But everybody at the party came up to me and said, “This is a business right now that you're working with.”

So I took some time off. During the pandemic, especially, I felt like I had nothing else to look forward to except for my meals. I got really excited to create and try different cheeses and try different flavors. It wasn't intentional when I started Sophisticated Spreads, that it would become what it is now. But I definitely just liked combining flavors and creating art pieces through my cheese boards.

What makes a Sophisticated Spread, well, sophisticated? What is special about how you craft your boards?

It starts with the products that you're using. I try to use all locally sourced food, whether it be farmer's market fruit or California creamery cheeses. A lot of the cheeses that I use, you can't find in any grocery store here locally. It's fun and different. That’s the sophisticated touch that I put on my boards as well as just really honing in on how you're placing the items. So I like to put my cheese down first and pair it with the meat that comes next. Instead of just placing the salami down, I like to do salami ribbons or prosciutto ribbons, but those little touches definitely turn a board from just a regular appetizer into a Sophisticated Spread.

Photo of a Sophisticated Spread cheese board courtesy of Emmy Rener.

You already gained some traction within your own community about your boards. And as you know, so many small businesses rely on social media to get clients. How has Instagram become the home for your work, prior to going viral?

Basically, I did a lot of pop-ups and farmer's markets and that was all in-person, boots-on-the-ground kind of work — trying to spread the word about what I'm doing. And then I posted a few different Instagram reels. The exposure that I gained from a 15-second video is just unbelievable. At that moment, I realized the power of social media. One of my reels, I think, got like 1.2 million views and at the time I had like 10,000 followers. That sort of influx of exposure is just unparalleled. But I definitely also think that my product is what I would consider Instagrammable. When people order my boards, they like to post photos of them. And influencers were readily accepting of my boards when I dropped them off to them because they were like, “Oh, you are perfect for the feed.” I think in a day and age, especially with Gen Z, where people are so obsessed with what they’re posting next, my boards are the perfect gift.

Speaking of which, tell me what exactly happened with Sofia Vergara. How did she get in touch with you?

This is a really funny story to share, but essentially I was actually sitting in my car and I just taught a charcuterie class of 12 women in Newport Beach. And I was pretty exhausted. In the beginning, when you have a small business, it’s a lot of work, without a lot of pay and a lot of applause and praise, so I was working really hard. Then I got into my car and I got an Instagram notification from Jessica Alba saying that she tagged me in a post. I looked at that and I was like, there’s got to be something that I'm missing here. There's no way that Jessica Alba just randomly posted a photo of me. And sure enough, she featured me as one of her favorite small businesses for Small Business Tuesday.

And Sofia starts following me along with a few other celebrities (I’m like 99% positive that’s how that happened). Once she followed me, I sent her a DM, like, “Girl, we gotta get you a board!” So then I delivered one to her and she and her husband loved it. Then they ordered another board and then another board and now they're ordering all the time. It's been pretty insane. But the latest board she ordered, I delivered it not knowing it was going to be for the “Modern Family” reunion or anything like that. When she officially posted it in her feed, it was just insane.

So I came across you on TikTok and you were explaining how your board was the show-stopping board compared to everyone else's and how all of these other cast members were reposting. Can you speak more to that aspect of virality?

It’s being in the right time and place. It's hard because you can't recreate that. But basically, Jesse Tyler Ferguson — who plays Mitchell on Modern Family — brought a Joan’s on Third board, which I love, but the cheese board game was struggling. So he brought that board and then Sofia showed up with her board and they obviously didn't speak about it before they got there. Then he posted a photo of my board and his board that he brought. They thought it was hilarious. And he said to me that he couldn't stop laughing about it for an entire hour.

I know you're going to start school soon [at the University of Southern California]. What are your plans for Sophisticated Spread’s future?

My plan at the moment is I'm going to be attending school and continue to have a few employees to help me out. I'm going to continue to utilize their skills and hopefully grow my team to be a powerhouse. I'm also hoping to have more of a central location in Los Angeles and try to balance what this business is turning into. Because there's like a whole leg of it, that's like the actual making of the boards, which is awesome and very time consuming. And then there's also like the content creation portion of that, which is a whole other job in and of itself. Seeing where I fit into this — because right now I'm doing most of everything and my dad actually helps me out and makes a lot of my boards with me — hopefully I'm going to control the content creation leg of this. And I don't know. I think that the future of Sophisticated Spreads can look a lot of different ways, which I'm really excited to see what happens.

I'm also hoping to do pop-ups across the country in the next few years and open a storefront after I graduate, if not sooner. And then also look at shipping the boxes nationwide. One of the saddest things when something goes viral is that people watch your video and then they're like, “OK, I want to order that right here, right now.” Then they look for a link. I'm getting people from Wisconsin, from Arkansas, from Ohio, Missouri, fill in the blank, Scotland. I would love to be able to give them a link so they order it right here. That's a really big endeavor to embark on, but I love a good challenge, so we shall see.

Do you have any advice for Gen Z foodies who might want to start their own business?

I always tell people, because I'm 19, that it's so much easier to start your business now than it would be in 10 years, for example. I have a lot of freedom that's been given to me because of the family that I was raised in. I have this freedom since I'm not in college yet. If you're at a point in your life where you have freedom to do what you please, go for it, especially when you're young. It's easier to start it now than it would be, you know, later on down the line.

If you're passionate enough about whatever you're doing, it's going to fall into the hands of the right people. And then you're going to have a situation like mine. I never got attached to any sort of direction that this business was going to go into. I genuinely started it with just the hopes of bringing joy and spreading it to friends and family locally. I never did it to be a viral product. I didn't expect that. So I think that if you go into it being passionate and optimistic and with a lot of hard work, I think you can get pretty far, especially if you are utilizing mentors around you.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.