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Disenchanted with Mars Cheese Castle

I really want to like Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha. It has such a great name and a great sign that’s visible from 1-94, making it seem like heaven for lovers of kitsch and cheese.

Unfortunately, every time I go into the place, which is about once a year -- including yesterday afternoon -- I’m disappointed.

I want to like this place so much that I feel slightly sacrilegious writing this. I would love to categorize the Mars Cheese Castle with all the other awesome, quirky establishments that make this state so great, like Koz’s Mini Bowl and Dr. Evermore’s Scrap Metal Park, but I can’t. Here’s why:

1.  Too much crap, not enough cheese. The place has such an odd mix of things, from bad knickknacks to way too much candy to overpriced, super-fruity wines, but not enough cheese to honor its name. In my opinion, any place that’s dubbed a “cheese castle” should be one big, churning cheese emporium with voluptuous women in braids and checkered frocks handing out hunks, curds, slices, shreds, slabs and wheels in every hue of yellow and orange. OK, that sounds a little scary, like a Swiss Colony on steroids, but only a small portion of the space is actually filled with cheese and that seems wrong.

2.  Sub-par food. I don’t understand the restaurant. The café is basically a corridor squished between the other departments with bad lighting and four tables pushed too closely together. And why is the menu so cheese challenged, with the sole cheese item -- the cheese sandwich -- listed fifth or sixth on the menu? Why isn’t the menu loaded with mozzarella marinara, cheese subs, cheese dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese, etc? For the love of Gouda, why isn’t anything on that menu cheesy and deep-fried? I ordered a turkey and cheese sandwich that had a fat stack of meat, a massive slather of mayo and one measly slice of cheese. I ask you: cheese castle or cheese hovel?

3.  Not kid-friendly. We stopped at the Cheese Castle after touring the Jelly Belly warehouse in Pleasant Prairie. I thought we should introduce the kids to the place, still thinking that, in some way, it was a right of passage, a coming-of-age experience that all Wisconsinites must have before adulthood. Unfortunately, we were greeted with a sign taped next to the register reading “Well-behaved children are welcome at the Cheese Castle like well-behaved people.” This bothers me. It suggests kids aren’t people, and that they are usually not well behaved. Anyway, I could have easily blown off that sign if I didn’t feel like the other diners were slightly annoyed by the presence of little people.

4. Cubs paraphernalia. The Chicago Cubs sign -- displayed front and center at the counter -- nearly made me take our so-so sandwiches to go. This is a cheese castle located in the Dairy State, and they can’t cough up a single Brew Crew bobblehead or Packers pom-pon?

It's worth stopping at the Mars Cheese Castle to snap a photo (the sign is a classic), but, sadly, that's about it.

Talkbacks

tashams2 | Dec. 15, 2010 at 10:50 a.m. (report)

if you cannnot see the charm found at mar's cheese castle...you're a moron. they have plenty of cheese and meat options for purchase, as well as great samples to try. they have wonderful WI products for sale including jams, maple syrup and honey made in and from products of the state. there really isn't a better attribute...unless you're talking about the awesome bloody marys or the huge tub of cheesespread passed around at the bar. the locals that gather around are really great people when you give yourself a minute to sit down for a chat. how does the bar alone not have the good 'ol wisocnsin feeling? i'm from up north WI...and that's exactly what it reminds me of.

i can't say if this place is kid friendly or not....but it's a cheese store. how kid friendly can a cheese store be? mar's cheese castle doesn't focus on being a restaurant or catering to children. i'm not really sure how this clear aspect disappointed you (maybe "castle" threw you off, thinking it was an amusement park?). Especially when the store never claimed to be otherwise.

terrible article. i hope you didn't get paid for it.

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Yes to cheese | Feb. 24, 2008 at 1:18 a.m. (report)

I'd like to thank all those with positive feedback for Mars Cheese Castle. When I read Mollly's blog, I thought perhaps something had gone amiss at the Castle since I'd last visited. I'm glad to hear that Molly is simply off the mark. I've greatly enjoyed my few visits there, and think the deli sandwiches very tasty and the fresh bakery delicious.

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cheeseplease | Feb. 20, 2008 at 9:51 p.m. (report)

Dear Ms Molly:

After reading your article "disenchanted with Mar's Castle", I am left wondering if you are truly "disenchanted" or if this is some form of premeditated hostility or politically motivated statement. Seriously, the article while bringing to bare some astute observations was hollow with facts and research and lacked even a hint of respect for nostalgia which makes me question your intentions and motivations. Was it that you did not get a red carpet rolled out or handed a gunny sack full of free samples? Did you take something personally?

Frankly, I am offended by your article and think you grossly missed the mark and seemingly judged the Castle on your pre-conceived notions of the cheese business (hence your reference to Sendiks and yes they have some nice cheeses). That being said, let me educate you a little bit. First, cheese is not every hue of yellow and orange. Actually, the coloring you refer to comes from a substance called annatto or sometimes called Roucou which gives it color (by the way it comes by way of a tree). Also, your observations seemed cursory at best. The cheese room is filled with cheese in whole form and 1000's of pounds of cheese are stored under refrigeration. Further, anyone that did not witness the ALWAYS available warm cheese bread atop the bakery counter or samples in the case were simply viewing this institution with blinders on. Lastly, you obviously do not know the business very well. If you did you would note that inventories are keep deliberatley low this time of year due to weather, lack of tourism,logistical issues and lack of the Holiday proposition. Anyone that knows even a fraction of the retail cheese business knows this and takes it into consideration. You do not "Fill you Case" to the gills this time of year and if you do you will be wasting, losing or even worse selling cheese that is aged to the detriment of your valued customers. Do you have any knowledge or cheese life, aging, integrity and rotation for example? This being said and taking inventory of your article, I was critical during my last visit only to find that there was more cheese there than that which I could try, consume or entertain with for a year. In any event, to say Mar's lacks cheese is ABSURD! Retailers that try to be all things to all people go out of business so while it would be nice to go to McDonalds for a Big Mac, Whopper and Wendys Triple to each their own. Whether a novice, cheese monger or aficionado let me assure you there is plenty of cheese to appease your pallette or most anyone elses if you know what and where to look. One other point, if you really know your stuff and yurn for world class and distinctive artisan and specialty cheese you should ask if you can special order rare cheeses from around the globe. by the way, your chances are probably about 90% if it is available. Admittedly, I must acknowledge that a very small cross section of your observations to have merit. More is better when it comes to cheese but if again it comes in the form of just another cheese retailer, you can have it.

At this point of my response you should catch my drift, I love Mar's Cheese Castle! While you complain about too much candy, I praise it! I work long hours and get little time with my children but everytime I pass by my purchase includes some wax bottles, retro candy, candy necklaces, curds, beef sticks and yes cheese bread! Given your critique one would ask why? Let me be specific here. It is because my children look forward to it and it makes me feel good. When I call them and tell them I am on my way home from Mar's they smile and sense that while maybe not age appropriate (teens) the anticipation of neat goodies with an ETA of less than hour makes their hearts warm. Actually, they really love the stuff (so do I) and it again lets them know clearly that they are on my mind. Frankly, I love the retro stuff too. I would much rather visit and purchase a myriad of candies from Mar's them be impressed as you were by a mass production atmosphere like jelly bellys where machines do the work instead of people and by the way enjoy such economies of scale that their product is worth many multiples LESS than what is charged at the retail level. I would much rather associate with or purchase goods from people that preserve heritage and yes a little slice of yesteryear than yield to your business model philosphy. You see, you missed the whole point and experience when you went to Mar's. Did you see all the pictures of years gone by (Not props)? Did you note pictures of Mar's founding Father? Did you not observe the historical items throughout which you inaffectionately referred to as bad knickknacks? Did you not feel the heritage? Lastly and most importantly, did you interface with or ask to speak to a member of management or employee? If you had, you would IMO of been impressed by the story, the history and the people that have strived to maintain the history, integrity and heritage of Mar's. When I walk in, it makes me feel like I am visiting friends and makes me feel that while the world seems to always get ahead of itself there is a place I can to get a Vienna dog, a Rueben or other item, pick up some cheese and a few candy items for my kids and feel good about the experience. In short, it serves as a constant reminder of what was and is good and IMO preserves the sole proprietor spirit which I will gladly take over some chain that trys to be all things to all people! My suggestion to you respectfully is to look at the glass half full instead of half empty and try to gain an appreciation for the preservation of this historical landmark. Oh and meet the people there as I find them to be as friendly as any I have ever met.

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marsfanatic | Feb. 19, 2008 at 5:51 p.m. (report)

mars is a great place. free samples everywhere!!!!! no, fat women in braids dont sing & throw cheese curds at you but you can enjoy almost anything from CHEESE and crackers in the bar to kringle in the bakery and if you ask, the staff is pleased and eager to let you sample any and ALL of the cheese varieties on display FOR FREE!!! how many food retailers let you try unlimited amounts of product before you buy?! every-time i have been in, kids seem to love it and in fact, most of the people who come in as adults were brought to mars as children (including myself). the wine selection is extensive and you should have asked for assistance if you cant pick out a bottle of wine for yourself. i personally enjoy the "lunch counter" and revel in the fact that i can enjoy a wide variety of sammy's - not just fried garbage. you can get mozz stick @ any greasy spoon but you can't find a ruben or brat or hot italian roast beef all on the same menu anywhere else. i know i personally have asked for many different cheeses on many different sandwiches on many different occasions & have always been pleased to find the kitchen staff willing to go out of their way to accommodate me. i can buy all the cheese i want to make a cheese sub at home. as for seating to eat your meal, you must have missed the 20 or so tables in the smoke-free bar. i am old enough to enjoy a locally brewed beer or famous bloody mary which has always made the stop a worthwhile one. i would also like to say you missed the GIANT display coolers (2) where mars does indeed have cheese wheels, loaves, etc. the candy is awesome, i'm very sad you dont like candy because some of the greatest gifts i have given have been sweets from mars including hard to find specialty candy. Its not a theme park. its a fantastic stop for any traveller looking for something they cant find anywhere else in the country.

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HeyNowHeyNowHeyNow | Feb. 19, 2008 at 3:53 p.m. (report)

My family enjoys the food (my wife and her co-workers enjoy the cheese bread and my children enjoy the cookies and ballons; I like the sandwiches they don't skimp on the sandwiches!) Everyone is very friendly to us except the overweight janitor, who should smile more....Oh well.

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