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The Cheese Lady Sisterhood

The The Cheese Lady Sisterhood Cheese Lady Story
Kathleen Fagan Riegler
The Cheese Lady Sisterhood / Founder

In July of 2004 I resigned my real job. I had grown tired of the road. After over 20 years of driving and selling, it was time for a change.

Tongue in cheek I suggested to my husband John, that I go to the Muskegon Farmers’ Market and sell cheese. The previous April we had been in Provence, France. I loved the open-air markets more than anything and we spent countless hours wandering and watching the vendors. Because I was in the cheese business, the cheese vendors particularly intrigued me. John encouraged me to try it.  And In less than 3 weeks I had a name, a Department of Agriculture license and a sign. I was The Cheese Lady. I bought $500. worth of cheese from the company I had just left and went to market. I sold out.

I love it at the market. The energy is immense. The market crosses all lines. Market goers are a diverse group in every way except one. Everyone there wants to be there. Both the sellers and the buyers.

Since I started selling only cheese, I have learned so much. I now have a PASSION to make you love cheese as much as I do. I am a turophile. A lover of cheese.

Cheese is a living, growing thing. A fascinating one. As my friend, Connie, says, “Isn’t it incredible what they can do with milk?” Cheese can be salty or sweet. Cheese can be soft or hard. Cheese can be smelly or mild. And it changes character day by day.

My favorite cheeses might not be yours. Your favorite cheeses may not be mine. But in the thousands of cheeses out there we both can find one that makes us smile.

Cheese gives me much pleasure. Part of that pleasure comes from knowing a little more about it every day. And part of the pleasure comes from providing people with a place to buy cheeses that will take them back to another place, another time. Back to sharing cheese and bread with your grandfather. Back to the beautiful markets of Provence. Back to the lovely green hills of Ireland. Sharing cheese. And sharing time with family and friends. It is simple.

BUT the story continues . . . .

Being approached about franchising was not in our plan.

Natalie St. Louis Fuller opened the first Cheese Lady franchise on March 17th of 2011. She is in Texas Township near Kalamazoo and her store and business grow more beautiful every day. You will not believe what Natalie can offer!

Heather Zinn opened the second Cheese Lady franchise in a near downtown location in Grand Rapids. She opened on October 11, 2012. Heather’s store has an energy that fits with her personality and her location. She has quickly become a regular stop when Grand Rapids looks for cheese.

Traverse City also has a Cheese Lady! On the 2nd of October, 2014 Tina Zinn opened her doors. Her daughter, Kim Fish, has joined her in this super cute store. The Front Street location puts her right where she needs to be! Check them out when you are visiting the North Country.

The Cheese Lady Farmington opened on November 11, 2014.  Joe & Kendra Mantey are a bright and shiny addition located adjacent to  Riley Park. In the style of all The Cheese Lady shops, they can’t wait to tell you all about cheese!

Muskegon has always been the mother store. It is where it all began. But on January 10, 2016 there was a changing of the guard. Longtime cheesemonger, Shelley Essebaggers Lewis signed the papers and became The Cheese Lady Muskegon.

In January of 2016 Rochester opened their own Cheese Lady shop. Kimberly Judd and Barbara Marriner have a super charming shop and tasting room in the Victorian Manor. Jean-Jacques Fertal has joined them there with Rochester Wines. Talk about tasting! Cheese. Wine. Classes. Amazing!

Deb Sailor learned the ropes on Saturdays at the St. Joseph Farmers Market on the bluff. Anchoring the THE MARKET is The Cheese Lady St. Joe. Construction woes coupled with a pandemic put off the opening but on September 21, 2021 the doors opened. You’ll want to see this special food-centric market.

The Cheese Lady of Fenton is a mother/daughter team. Jean Ruffini and her daughter, Charlotte began at local farmers markets and on October 22, 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, they opened their super cute store in Downtown Fenton. You’ll love it!

It has been a journey. An unexpected path.

When I started all those years ago at the Muskegon Farmers Market, I had no vision for this business that has, literally, taken on a life of its own. These special people have become family. We downplay the franchise aspect because each store has the freedom to become its own personality. And they have.

We are a sisterhood, of mostly women, who help and support each other.

And I, for one, am grateful and proud to know these “sisters”. My life is much enriched by our association and friendship.