The Mars Cheese Castle is a sight to behold. The sand-colored building, with its battlements and grassy moat stands at attention like it's guarding the border between Illinois and Wisconsin - but don't let that fool you! Although this might as well be the state line for many travelers heading to or from Chicago, if you know what really matters in life--cheese--then this will feel more than just an ordinary roadside attraction.
The family-owned Kenosha business about 60 miles from Chicago is a protector of curds, an expert in cheese for the ages. This roadside icon and requisite roadtrip stop has been at it since 1922 when they started as a local creamery with just one truck to transport milk across town. Nowadays there are more than 34 varieties sold through their quaint little store! The ruling cheese royalty here comes after two generations that have grown its business into this iconic destination everyone stops by on every trip down I94 to Milwaukee or up Highway 41 towards Door County--and does so without ever compromising quality along the way: you can still see their original brick building near downtown where customers line out front all summer long for fresh batches of buttery cheddar.
Father and Daughter at the Mars Cheese Castle
Little bit of History
Mario Ventura was a butcher who’d worked at the Naval Station Great Lakes and later at the A&P grocery store in downtown Kenosha, but he had a good head for business. He decided, with his wife Martha to open an old schoolhouse that would sell cheese as well as deli foods they called “Mars." Mario found himself by two-lane U.S. 41 and I-94 that connected Milwaukee and Chicago - it wasn't long before Mars became one of Wisconsin's most iconic food destinations!
Mario and Martha have been working together for years. They are both hard-working people, who do anything that needs to be done at the cheese shop on a daily basis - from slicing cheese behind the counter to handing out samples of 600 pound cheeses when they're not busy doing their other tasks. Over time there were changes: more traffic due to an expanding road caused by construction; then one day Mario's store burned down! Luckily it wasn't too much work since he had bought a gas station up the street which turned into his new location with some extra features like bakery goods, coffee barista services and even craft beer taps.
Mario and Martha lived their lives in the cheese shop, raising two children. Their son Mario Jr. would work there until he became too old for it while his daughter Angela worked at times as well when she was home from college or on break during her childhood years, with both of them eventually having kids themselves that now run Mars Cheese Castle!
Tyson Wehrmeister is a little boy with an even bigger dream: to clean the castle. His grandfather would show up every Saturday morning while he was cleaning and point him towards the vacuum, instilling in Tyson his work ethic that still lives on today.
When Michael Ventura was 12, he had to prove himself before being given the privilege of helping out around his grandpa's car shop. "I would do things like clean Grandpa’s car," laughs Michael. His grandparents passed away in 2004 and 2007 respectively, but their legacy lives on- for a time after they died Mario Jr., with help from Angela’s husband Phil Wehrmeister ran the business together. In 2017 both encountered health issues; however, that didn't stop them or hinder what needs done at this auto garage including keeping up appearances (cleaning cars). The next generation stepped up!
Michael Ventura has fond memories working as an apprentice helper at his grandfather's tire store when he was just twelve years old.
The cousins had an opportunity to really leave their mark. In 2011, the highway was expanding and they castle was in its way. They thought about what would happen if everything just stayed the same after all these years of hard work, so when it came time for them to relocate there were two options: stay where they are or find a new place down the road that's more practical but still has those old-world touches on which this company thrives -- like stone walls carved with large windows from floor to ceiling looking out onto lush green fields dotted by grazing sheep while sunsets kiss vast blue skies filled with fluffy white clouds high over head; at first glance you might think this is some kind of fairy tale come true... But then again ... it could pass as a mall at a Renaissance fair.
In the past few years, Tyson has seen drastic changes. The first reconstruction was around one sixth of its original size- which is still plenty for a mall at a Renaissance fair. Now it stands as more than two thirds larger and can accommodate up to 2,500 visitors on weekends!
You know how there are those people that seem to always be rubbing elbows with celebrities? Well, they have the best time when Taste of Chicago is going on in Chicago and Summerfest is happening right next door. "Tour buses come in," says Natalie. "Everybody in the band gets off and tries some cheese." It's not just a one-time thing either - these celebriphiles get their fix every year during this very concentrated period of celebrity sauntering around metro areas!
The cousins are eager to leave their mark on the family business. They have plans for their growth and are hosting events and working to become a destination for locals. On Christmas Eve, they fly in oysters from both coasts and Canada then pair them with bourbon barrel beer at an annual event that ends around midnight when Santa arrives via horse-drawn carriage; on Valentine's Day, they hosted Love at First Bite: Valentine’s Day Dinner at the Castle where guests could enjoy five courses of food paired with wine while listening to live music by The Clayton Brothers Band."
At the end of the day, this is one place you must come see if you have never been here.
I would like to thank my friends who help give me ideas for my adventures so that I am able to take the time to write these for you. I did find this write up of another Kenosha attraction, the Faire right next door which I will review in the next few weeks. Until then thank you for reading.
© 2021 Faris Coates