The Cheese Factory folds spirituality into vegetarian food
WISCONSIN DELLS – In the midst of massive water parks and fast food restaurants and flashing neon motel signs, The Cheese Factory Restaurant – not to be confused with the chain of Cheesecake Factory restaurants – is an anomaly among Wisconsin Dells' offerings.
Twenty years ago, Sage-Louise opened the vegetarian and vegan restaurant as an extension of her spiritual path which led her from New York City to The Dells.
Sage-Louise worked in a variety of five-star restaurants – as well as for gourmet foods retailer Dean & Deluca – but was always searching for something to give her life more meaning. When the spiritual guide "A Course In Miracles" fell in her lap, Sage-Louise felt she had finally found the missing piece. Eventually, she moved to the Course In Miracles Academy in The Dells and later opened The Cheese Factory.
"It gave me the inspiration to live a life that is broader and more filled with love and forgiveness," says Sage-Louise.
A Course In Miracles – a Christian-based, self-study curriculum that focuses on forgiveness and healing – is very much a part of The Cheese Factory's foundation, and books and literature are displayed at the restaurant for the taking, but the staff doesn't verbally push the religion on diners.
"There's no dogma, it's completely personal," says Sage-Louise.
The Cheese Factory is staffed entirely by people who are studying or teaching at the academy, located behind the restaurant, and some of whom are from foreign countries. Some live at the academy, some live on their own nearby.
Erik Degenhardt followed his spiritual path to The Dells from Holland eight years ago and works as a host at The Cheese Factory.
"The restaurant is an extension of The Course In Miracles," says Degenhardt. "We simply express light and love through our food."
Maybe love is the secret ingredient, but whatever is getting mixed into the recipes is definitely working. The food at The Cheese Factory is homemade and freshly prepared. The online reviews unanimously declare The Cheese Factory's food and service to be top notch.
Sage-Louise created most of the recipes herself, and classics like the Thai stir fry, the chimichanga and the Big Cheese – recognized by Rachel Ray as one of the top five grilled cheese sandwiches in the country – have remained menu staples for two decades.
Other menu items have been added over the years by students who came to the Course In Miracles Academy and suggested dishes from their native cuisine. In the summertime, The Cheese Factory has as many as 60 or 70 employees from around the world.
"We have had students from Germany, France, Asia, South America and many other places. Some of our students brought menu ideas which have made our menu evolve over the years," says Sage-Louise.
The Cheese Factory has a vegetarian and a vegan menu. (The vegan menu is available upon request.) Many of the recipes are available in the "The Cheese Factory Restaurant Cookbook."
The restaurant offers breakfast items, like eggs, wraps, corn and millet pudding, pancakes, huevos rancheros, omelets and spectacular Thai bananas which are deep fried bananas served with coconut-curry peanut sauce, pineapples, walnuts and toasted almonds. All of the breakfast entrees range from $4.95 to $10.95.
The sandwich menu – ranging in price from $8.95 to $10.95 – features a veggie burger, soy meatball crumble ciabatta, portobello mushroom, grilled veggie and the Big Cheese. All of the sandwiches are served with a salad or fries.
There is also a Mexican section, a "lighter fare" section – which includes the signature beer soup and "rattlesnake tofu" – a gourmet pizza section and Cheese Factory Classics section featuring the spanakopita, Malaysian coconut noodles, Hungarian goulash, spinach fettuccine pesto and many more.
The restaurant also offers a wide array of made in-house and from-scratch bakery items under $6 including carrot cake and New York cheesecake, as well as coffee drinks made from Ancora Coffee and decadent ice cream desserts.
The Cheese Factory does not serve alcohol, but has a variety of soda fountain drinks including phosphates and Italian sodas, as well as smoothies.
During a recent visit, we sampled a variety of dishes, including the Hungarian goulash, the veggie-tofu rice bowl, the onion rings, veggie burger, New York cheesecake and an insanely-decadent "Princess cake." All of the food was exactly the right temperature, flavorful, well presented and the perfect portion size.
Also, the service was spectacular and the environment is extremely kid friendly. The kids received crayons, pinwheels and free fries while we waited for the rest of our food. The kids' menu features a "hot dog," cheese quesadilla, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pasta with butter or red sauce or butter, cheesy noodles and a few breakfast items.
The restaurant is both peaceful and vibrant. It's located on a well-tended swatch of land on The Dells' main strip. Multiple murals adorn the walls, and the abundance of windows create loads of light. Plus, a retro jukebox and soda fountain contribute to the lively feel. There is a large reception hall upstairs from the restaurant where weddings and special events take place. The Cheese Factory also caters events off site.
Sage-Louise says the restaurant is definitely different from most of the offerings at The Dells, and that this fact both works and doesn't work in their favor.
"A lot of the families who come to The Dells are looking for something else, and that's OK. We appeal to a very specific customer. But over the past 20 years, vegetarian and vegan food has become more fashionable, thanks to Hollywood celebrities and Chelsea Clinton's vegan wedding. All of this has helped us," says Sage-Louise.
"For me, I enjoy working with the people with the same perspective I have and extending that energetically to our customers."
That good looks delicious and those wall decorations are quite nice. If I'm ever in the Dells I will keep an eye out for this place.
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