Every cheese shop starts with a dream and a devotion to the craft. No one knows this better than Michigan’s own “Cheese Lady,” Kathleen Riegler. After selling specialty foods on the road for over 20 years, a 2004 trip to cheese markets throughout France convinced her to quit her old job and have her own stand at a farmers market back in the States. Two and a half years and a new following of cheese lovers later, she opened her first Cheese Lady shop in Muskegon, Mich. But even that wasn’t enough—a year later, Riegler had to open a bigger store to match the growing popularity. Now there are six stores throughout the state, but as of January 14, Kathleen has taken a step back.
“People have said the nicest things about what has happened,” Riegler said in an interview with Michigan Live. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been supported.”
This isn’t the last of cheesy entrepreneur, however. Riegler is more or less moving into semi-retirement as she spends more time with her family, while also managing the overall franchise. While she is sad to be stepping away from being the face of her store, she is undoubtedly grateful for the support her town has given her. “Without the customers, we wouldn’t exist. I think it’s exciting that a Muskegon business has done as well as it has. That’s what I’m most proud of . . . we hit the right chords so that it’s transferable to other cities and can do well in other cities.”
The Cheese Lady was meant to give you a cheese experience you might not get anywhere else. Riegler always focused on informing her customers and creating a dialogue about the cheeses. She encouraged them to sample and ensured they’d always have pairing recommendations.
Cheese was always Riegler’s passion, and to be able to develop that passion to the point where her Cheese Ladies can cover the state is quite the admirable feat. Fortunately for Michiganders, the Cheese Lady empire rests in good hands: taking her place is longtime employee Shelley Lewis. An old hand at the business, she definitely anticipates the stress the job might load on her. Even so, Lewis spoke with confidence about her future a head Cheese Lady. “We have pretty high standards here on how we’ve done things,” she said, “and my goal is to continue to do them that way.”
Feature Photo Credit: The Cheese Lady