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New kid on the (cheese) block: Bongards store opening Thursday in Perham

The new Bongards Retail Cheese Store is about to prove that there's no such thing as too much of a good thing. With wall-to-wall coolers full of more than 200 different varieties and flavors of cheeses, the store will be a Heaven-on-Earth for dai...

The new Bongards Retail Cheese Store in Perham features wall-to-wall coolers full of more than 200 different varieties of cheese. Store Manager Linda Ogroske said cheese samples will be offered nearly every day, especially in the summers. Marie Johnson/FOCUS

The new Bongards Retail Cheese Store is about to prove that there's no such thing as too much of a good thing.

With wall-to-wall coolers full of more than 200 different varieties and flavors of cheeses, the store will be a Heaven-on-Earth for dairy lovers. Also featuring snack meats from the Perham Locker Plant, cheese-themed gift baskets and related goods like cutting boards and knives, it's gearing up to be 1,800-square-feet of everything a cheese connoisseur could hope for.

Even the doorbell has a dairy theme, projecting the distinctive sound of a cow's moo whenever the front door opens.

Bongards, a dairy farmer-owned cooperative that operates a large cheese plant in Perham, announced its plans for the retail store last fall, after purchasing a building for it downtown. Remodeling and other prep work has been ongoing through the winter, and now the store is almost ready to open.

A soft opening has been set for this Thursday, March 9, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A more formal grand opening celebration will follow later in the summer.

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"I think we're going to have a lot of fun in here," said Store Manager Linda Ogroske as she gazed around the inside of the shop with a smile last week. "I think we'll have something for everyone."

There were still some unpacked boxes of product and empty shelves at that point, but most of the 'big stuff' was done. The building, located on the corner of Main Street and 2nd Avenue SE, was formerly a hair salon. To serve its new purpose it had to be completely gutted, from floor to ceiling.

Ogroske has given the store a clean, uncluttered, farm-chic style that incorporates bits of Bongards history and the history of cheese-making. The retail area is spacious, bright and open, with a large counter situated in the middle of the room and coolers running the lengths of the walls around it.

The color scheme includes shades of gray, white and red, matching the look of the store's exterior signs. A flat-screen TV mounted to one of the walls plays a video of cheese being made at Bongards. The Perham plant is visible from the store's front windows.

Currently, the cheese store is located right next to that plant, crammed into a small area at the front of the Bongards office building. The new store offers much more space, increased visibility as a shopping destination, and ample off-street parking.

All Bongards cheeses will be sold there, including string cheese, shredded cheese, blocks, processed cheese and, of course, squeaky-fresh cheese curds. Blueberry-Cranberry-Apricot Cheddar, Buffalo Wing and Chocolate Fudge are some of the more unique flavors that will be available. There will also be select cheeses from Wisconsin and other parts of the country, plus gift baskets and fresh cheese trays put together by staff, right in house.

Two new part-time employees started at the store on Friday, joining Ogroske, who is on site full-time. The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. There will be weekly sales and specials, and Bongards cheese prices will remain the same as always.

Ogroske said they'll be offering cheese samples on an almost daily basis, especially in the summers.

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Bongards was founded in 1908 and has three manufacturing facilities: The Perham plant makes natural cheese and whey products, while a plant in Bongards, Minn., makes processed cheese as well as cut and wrap for retail and another plant in Humboldt, Tenn., makes processed and shredded cheese.

A writer, editor and mom of four (two kids, two dogs), Marie's been in the newspaper business for over 20 years. She started at the Detroit Lakes Tribune in 2017 after working just down the road at the Perham Focus for several years. Before that, she was at the Herald-Review in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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