New Mars' Cheese Castle carries old character over to new building
Mars' Cheese Castle, an institution once threatened by expansion of the I-94 corridor, has reopened in a building fitting of its royal stature as the king of Wisconsin cheese shops.
The family-owned operation that has flourished for over 60 years alongside the interstate in Kenosha, opened its new 25,000-square foot salesroom earlier this month. Longtime visitors will be pleased to hear it maintains much of its character while gaining a much more open and efficient space.
"We have gotten a great response from our customers," said Mario Ventura Jr., whose father, Mario Sr., founded the shop in 1947.
While the old spot sported a castle facade, the new building has an actual tower and battlements fulfilling Ventura Sr.'s longtime vision of making his shop an actual castle.
"My mother and father had it in their head before they passed away that they always wanted to have a castle out here with the main thrust to sell cheese and sausage and products that represented the state of Wisconsin," said Ventura Jr. "To make that a landmark or institution they felt that it should always be a castle of some sort, and we relied on that theme."
While Ventura incorporated many elements from the old building, the sales floor is wide open and well lit and feels more akin to something like a Whole Foods.
Of course, the store still sells a wide variety of Wisconsin cheeses and state-made products including wine, honey, chocolate, sausages, Kringle and almost anything else you can imagine.
A wide variety of novelty items and sports gear for sale may also appeal to the lactose intolerant.
While the beautiful new building does lose some of the kitsch factor of the previous space, its spirit lives on in the tavern where its colorful regulars can still feast on complimentary cheese spread and crackers and get one of the most delicious $5 Bloody Marys you'll ever try.
"A lot of our customers insisted that we keep the flavor and the same modus operandi that we had before. We wanted to carry over that flavor and make sure people still felt comfortable in our place," said Ventura Jr. "So we made our cocktail lounge to be as close to the old one as possible although the bar is new and all the things in there are nice and new, but some of the old flavor is still in there."
The bar's old paintings and stein collections still adorn the walls and Ventura Sr. and his wife Martha look on from their beautiful portraits by the late and celebrated Kenosha artist George Pollard.
The move couldn't have come at a better time, as maintenance issues at the old building became more frequent and costly, Ventura Jr. said.
"It was time to move on and we are happy about that. We would have been spending a lot of money to make some general renovations," said Ventura, "It was getting to the point where it was getting worn out. ... We had made a lot of improvements over the years but it was time for that to go."
Judging by a recent weekday afternoon visit, customers are responding positively to the changes. Despite a heavy rain, the bar area was full with people drinking and eating sandwiches from the deli. And dozens of people wandered the new sales floor marveling at the improvements.
"We have a little bit larger area and it's set up a little differently so it's a lot more efficient," said Ventura Jr. "We have gotten a great response from our customers."
Looks great! And landscaped by Hawks Nursery!
Anyone notice the "Planet" on the new Mars Cheese Castle building? That's right - it's Saturn! Kinda reminds me of the Bob Fish Auto Dealership billboard on Highway 41 heading north - they have a dolphin on it ( for those that don't get it, a dolphin is a mammal, not a fish). Don't get me wrong - I love the Mars Cheese Castle. Great prices on really good cheese, along with a ton of other things to buy. Maybe the West Allis Cheese Mart could learn a little about how to price their cheese from this wonderful spot.
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