- people on the move
'The Cheese Lady' sells original store
“The Cheese Lady” is passing on her beret.
The Cheese Lady, a specialty store known for its selection of 150 artisan cheeses from across the globe, officially transferred ownership of its flagship location in Muskegon, at 808 Terrace St., last month from founder Kathleen Fagan Riegler, “The Cheese Lady,” to “long-time cheesemonger” Shelley Essebaggers Lewis.
Riegler, known in the Muskegon community for more than a decade and recognizable by her beret, said she sold the original Muskegon location to be more involved with the local chain’s other five franchise locations throughout Michigan.
“It seemed like the right time and right things to do,” Riegler said. “It is a matter of having all six stores do well, and there is a little bit of pride in that — I think I can help them. The timing just fell together, and it was time to move into the next thing. This is no means a retirement.”
Lewis, who has been running the Muskegon store for a number of years, signed the paperwork and has officially taken over The Cheese Lady on Terrace Street.
While The Cheese Lady Muskegon is now under Lewis’ ownership, Riegler indicated she will still be around the Muskegon area.
“I think Muskegon is on the edge of looking like it is going to be a place, and I certainly want to be helpful toward that and be a part of that as much as I can,” Riegler said. “I always thought that the cheese shop downtown is part of that. If we could be successful, we could bring people down that wouldn’t otherwise come down.”
Since establishing a name, acquiring a Department of Agriculture license and purchasing $500 worth of cheese from the previous import company she worked for, Riegler has grown The Cheese Lady from an idea in 2004 to a franchise with six locations.
“I went to the market for a couple years, opened up a small shop, outgrew the shop within a year and we moved to our location in 2008,” said Rielger in reference to the Terrace Street shop. “The business has grown every year since, even through the years when it really shouldn’t have, even in Muskegon where it maybe shouldn’t have.”
The Cheese Lady now has additional franchise locations in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Farmington and Rochester.
When Riegler initially came up with the idea to sell cheese at the Muskegon Farmers Market more than 10 years ago, it was not meant to be a career change.
“I always laugh when people say you have to have a business plan. . . . Sometimes it just takes over your life,” Riegler said. “I had been to France and the markets and noticed they sold cheese, but didn’t necessarily make it. I thought why not try it? I had worked for an importer, and they imported cheese.”
Riegler partially credits her success to timing the launch of The Cheese Lady with the growing interest in food in the Midwest.
She added that she originally thought it would “just be fun to see if it would work” and then it “hit a cord.”