Paul Raxakoul, longtime co-owner of Country Cheese, dies

Paul (Phouthalak) Raxakoul

Paul (Phouthalak) Raxakoul

By Christine Staples

Paul (Phouthalak) Raxakoul, longtime co-owner of Country Cheese on San Pablo Avenue and Country Cheese Coffee Mart on Hopkins in Berkeley, died in his Berkeley home on Thursday, Dec. 27, surrounded by his close, loving family. Paul was 41 years old and had been living with colon cancer for 2 ½ years.

On most days, you could find Paul holding court at the deli counter at the back of Country Cheese on San Pablo, where he chatted and gave out free samples to everyone. He was a super friendly, generous guy, non-judgmental and kind.

“What I hope people will remember about my brother is what a loving person he was,” said his older brother, Pete (Phithak).

“He cared about everyone. He didn’t care whether or not you had money — he treated everyone with respect. Homeless people come into the shop all the time; he was always patient and kind to them; he fed them.”

Paul, the second of five siblings, was born in Vientiane, Laos on July 17, 1971. The family came to the United States as refugees in 1979. Fleeing Laos in 1977, they spent the next two years in a refugee camp in Thailand.

“We sold everything just to have enough money to pay someone to get us across safely into Thailand.” recalls Pete. “We were fortunate that we came to the United States with the full family intact.”

Lacking even basic English, a friend of his father’s took them in when they arrived; for six months the seven Raxakouls shared a studio apartment with the friend and his wife. They then moved to Hayward, where the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church took them into the fold. Church members taught the kids how to read and write, cook, and showed his mother how to take the bus and other life skills. The kids attended elementary school in Hayward, and attended the Good Shepherd’s middle school. Eventually the family was able to buy a modest home in San Pablo, and Paul graduated from De Anza High in El Sobrante, where his parents still live.

After mother Khamyong spent nine years working as a clerk at Country Cheese, the Raxakouls arranged to buy the business in 1991; the previous owners were so supportive of the purchase, they carried the loan. Eight years ago, the family decided to expand and purchased the shop on Hopkins. Initially, Paul ran the San Pablo store while Pete ran the Hopkins store. However, after Paul’s diagnosis two years ago, Pete began spending more time at the San Pablo store again, while Pete’s wife, Shirley, ran the Hopkins store, all with the continued help of the extended family.

On good days, in between chemotherapy treatments, Paul would spend the day at the store and catch up with his many friends. He and his family moved within walking distance of the store so that he could pop in anytime he felt well, and so that his boys could attend Berkeley public schools. Son Sebastian is currently a kindergartener in a BUSD elementary school, while Stefan attends a Berkeley pre-school.

Paul Raxakoul and his family

Paul Raxakoul and his family

Paul is survived by his wife, Sirinporn Khamtalob, sons Sebastian (5 ½) and Stefan (4), parents Khamyong and Phengkiao Raxakoul, brother Pete, sisters Mairie, Mirra and Mola, numerous cousins, nieces and nephews, and hundreds of friends. A vibrant and generous member of our community, he leaves a space that will be hard to fill.

Services for Paul will be held Friday Jan. 4 and Sat. Jan 5 at the Civic Center Chapel at the Wilson & Kratzer Mortuaries, 455 24th St., Richmond. There will be a viewing Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral is Saturday at 1 p.m.

If you would like to make a contribution to support the boys’ education, please follow this link to Paypal:, and then follow the instructions to make a payment to this account:

Checks can be made out to Mirra Raxakoul (the trustee for the boys’ account) and sent to Country Cheese, 2101 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

Berkeleyside welcomes obituaries of community members. Please submit them via email to We are honored to post them at no cost. 

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  • Eugene

    So sorry to hear about it. I dropped in before Christmas to buy a coffee while mailing some packages; I had no idea about his life. Thanks for writing about him.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I am very sad to hear that Paul died. I have been going to this store regularly for many years, and of course, I talked with him many times, but I had no idea he was ill. It is hard to find the right words about this sad and untimely death.

  • chip

    I used to work in that area and bought lunch there many times over the years years – I remember him working in the deli and his wife at the register up front. I saw his picture here and was hoping this was a happy piece about the store or his family. So so sorry. Condolences to the family. I had no idea he was sick. :(

  • fabian silveyra

    sad to hear. I remember the family from the Hopkins Store when I was a young grocery bagger at Monterey market.

  • Anne

    Very sad to hear this news. My condolences go out to his family. Paul always remembered us when we came in the store. We’ll continue to remember him.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Oh, damn. Such a sweet guy from a lovely family that’s served Berkeley well. (When my daughter heard, she wept a little, saying, “Paul sold us my first taste of French cheese!”)

  • Marc Weinstein

    what a treasure to have such a sweet neighborhood store !! as nearby neighbors, we had no idea Paul was sick. . . .THANK YOU, Paul for all that you gave our community !!!

  • Bernie Lenhoff

    Paul was exactly as described above, an open and friendly guy who was always fun to chat with. I work just down the street, so I’m a frequent visitor to the store. Such an untimely death, and a loss to our community,

  • Paul Fitzgerald

    Paul taught me so much about French cheeses. He was always available to help customers at the store even when he was busy with other chores. He was a wonderful person. I will greatly miss him. I am donating to his children’s education on his behalf. I hope that others will do the same.

  • Barbara Citragno

    We neighbors miss him so much. He was such a good friend. We all loved him.

  • Lauren

    super sad…he was a wonderful man, we will miss him dearly!

  • Very sad. We live near the store on Hopkins, presided over by the lovely Shirley, his sister-in-law. Never knew the full story of this wonderful family. Condolences to all.

  • Hilary G.

    I never met him but from the story and the comments below – it sounds like he persevered and lived his life fully until the end.

  • So sorry to hear this. I love that store and Paul and his family were always so gracious and helpful.

  • Chris J

    Didn’t know the fellow and never once had a sandwich from the back, and I’d heard that his sandwiches were well made. Sad to see a fellow buy it so early. Hopefully the business will continue to thrive.

  • Lawrence Grown

    I’m a long-time San Pablo Avenue Country Cheese customer. At first I thought of it as a quaint convenience store that happened to have a lot of cheeses. But every time I went in I’d discover another gourmet food to add to my regular shopping list. Then I got to know Paul.

    Paul was always friendly and chatty, happy to make a recommendation for whatever we were seeking. And willing to give a taste of a new or unfamiliar cheese. Or deli meat. Or cracker. Or gelato.

    In that way, Paul always exceeded expectations. When we asked for a donation of block cheese for a school fundraiser, Paul would slice it and provide a tray. When we needed coffee for a gathering but had no carafe, Paul would lend us his, and provide the cream and sugar. Or if we were simply having a bad day, Paul would take notice and put in extra effort to cheer us up. That’s the kind of person Paul was: caring, helpful, and generous.

    I’ll always remember Paul that way. Country Cheese has won my patronage and loyalty. Whether you knew Paul or not, please stop in to see what they have to offer. Like Paul was, these little stores are a neighborhood treasure.

  • Susan

    Just heartbroken; so sorry for all the family. Paul lost way too soon. May his memory be for a blessing.

  • Andrea

    So, so sad to hear this news. I worked near the San Pablo shop for many years, and really appreciated the warm, relaxed community that Paul, Pete and their family had created inside Country Cheese, with people from near and far stopping in to chat, shop, and hang out. The shop is a cornerstone of the San Pablo/University neighborhood, thanks to the family’s warmth and Paul’s sunny smile. He will be deeply missed by all of us.

  • Lihsia Wang

    When I worked at W Berkekey Family Practice I got a lot of sandwiches at Country Cheese. Paul was always so friendly and cheerful; it was a pleasure to go there. Also, Country Cheese was a regular advertiser with Berkekey Community Chorus, which we singers truly appreciated.

    Paul was too young; we’ll miss him.

  • Susan Anderson

    I met the Raxacouls at Good Shepherd Lutheran School. I remember loving them instantly. Paul was tall, handsome, and so very sweet. Quiet but always smiling. We spent so many years together, laughing, learning, teaching eachother. Our little church family was a wonderful place to grow up. Facebook brought so many of us back together and for those years of chats and messages, I am so grateful. Pauls family deserves community help as they had before, because they always paid back with their generosity, kindness and loving ways. I pray the boys are always told how wonderful their father was. With their beautiful family, I have no doubt this will be so.

  • Michele Ashley

    Though I did not know Paul personally, only of him through his equally
    amazing sister @Maire, I am nevertheless saddened by this news. It is
    quite apparent to me that he was an amazing man given the outpouring of
    affection and sentiment of our loss. My prayers and heart go out to his
    family. May time lessen the pain of your loss and may you always be secure in knowing he is with you in spirit.

  • Ron Tuazon

    OMG! This whole time, I had no idea this happened. I am shocked!!! I was google’ing Country Cheese’s phone number and this terrible news popped up.

    I remember him showing me his six-pack not too long ago. He was in very good health last time I visited him. Paul has been my best friend for the longest time. I met him at Contra Costa College when we were in our teens. I would always run into him in 7/11 playing Street Fighter II. Ofcourse, I would always beat him on it but this is how our friendship started; kicking each other’s arse. I admire the guy, he is someone I looked up to like a big brother. Much so that he even convinced me to go to church regularly and I am not religious… Well at least for a few years. I was going through rough times the first few years I met him and he helped me out a lot. I never got a chance to let him know how much I appreciated what he has done for me. His family is very welcoming as well.

    Through the years, life went on and we stopped hanging out with each other and eventually lost contact. I would visit him every now and then. There would always be big a surprise. Once he told he got hitched. I was pissed that he didn’t tell me. Then a baby, then he moved Berkeley and bought a Van. Next visit was another baby. His babies were adorable by the way… And now I read this horrible news. My heart dropped. I am in tears… A part of me has died.

  • Ron Tuazon

    Sleep well my brother, you will always be with me.