You have until the end of July to make your last trip to this beloved cheese shop.
Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop might share a backyard with Mars Cheese Castle, but its customer base is completely different.
Located on Interstate 94 in Kenosha, Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop has been around since the 1950s. As owners Phyllis and Richard Giovanelli retire, the shop will close at the end of July, leaving behind a legacy of local charm and community ties.
Bobby Nelson is a professional wrestler — who may or may not have been the namesake of the full- and half-nelson — and a Kenosha native. He opened the shop in the 1950s; Phyllis Giovanelli took over in the 1970s and has run the business since.
“I grew up with a lot of our customers,” Giovanelli said, adding that they have several fourth-generation shoppers. Many regulars come by even if they don’t need to buy anything, simply for a hug or a quick hello. “They’re not customers; they’re friends.”
The same welcome is extended to first-time visitors. Giovanelli greeted me warmly when I entered the shop, coming around the counter to recount stories of the community this place has fostered.
Giovanelli and her husband agreed that retiring from the shop would be hard, but they believe it is time to move on.
“Nobody’s pushing us out of business. We’re doing fantastic.” Giovanelli emphasized. “We don’t worry about Mars or anybody else.”
The shop’s compassionate atmosphere certainly can’t be found among the souvenirs at the corporate castle down the road. Besides, the recently renovated Mars Cheese Castle might offer a synthetic recreation of medieval times, but Bobby Nelson’s is truly “a link to the past.”
The shop’s historic integrity amplifies its charm; the owners haven’t remodeled, and the original decorations remain on the walls. Giovanelli explained that she and her husband like to keep their business personable, avoiding technology as much as possible and keeping their interactions face-to-face. They have a landline for placing orders but don’t use a website.
The shop’s primary advertising method is word of mouth, as well as the neon sign out front. The sign advertises the shop’s popular summer sausage with the words “mitt or mittout,” which refers to sausage with or without garlic; this phrase dates back to when Nelson owned the shop.
The sausage is a customer favorite, and it hangs to dry on a wooden rod behind the counter inside. It’s made specially for Bobby Nelson’s, and the store’s other products – preserves, fudge, popcorn, syrups and more – are Wisconsin-made as well.
The combination of local goods and heartfelt service at Bobby Nelson’s have a created a family dynamic between customers and employees that will be sorely missed. Giovanelli said that although the store is closing, these friendships will undoubtedly remain strong.
“That’s the kind of customers we have,” she said. “We watch out for each other. That’s the way it’s always been.”