CANNON FALLS - The three owners and founders of CannonBelles Cheese told each other, their friends and community that they had no plans to open a shop any time soon; their focus was making cheese.
But when a rumor started spreading in December 2018 that Schoolhouse Scoops was leaving Cannon Falls, the trio began talking about having an actual store.
On April 1, CannonBelles Coffee & Ice Cream opened its doors.
DeeAnn Lufkin and Jackie Ohmann began experimenting with cheese making about seven years ago. The friends had been making beer and wine together but did not drink much of their own product. So they tried cheese, something they both enjoy eating and, since Ohmann was married to a dairy farmer, had easy access to the main ingredient.
As the demand for cheese from friends and family grew, Lufkin and Ohmann invited their friend Kathy Hupf, who spent most of her life on a dairy farm, to join them.
About two and a half years ago, the three friends decided that their kitchens were not large enough for all of the cheese they were hoping to make. So they moved to the University of Minnesota's Pilot Plant near the State Fairgrounds. Today, they drive there once a month and make 700 pounds of cheese.
Ice cream and coffee
Hupf and Ohmann live near Cannon Falls - Lufki is in nearby Northfield - and store some of their cheese in a rented space on the south side of Cannon Falls. Frequently, according to Lufkin, the trio would want to hold business meetings in the town over coffee, but there wasn't a coffee shop.
"Jackie and Kathy were talking one day saying, you know, if we hadn't done cheese, I think we'd have done coffee," Lufkin explained.
When Schoolhouse Scoops moved, it gave CannonBelles a chance to open a coffee shop and create another place to sell their cheese. (There is also still 16 flavors of ice cream).
The store feels homey: exposed brick walls, church pews for seats, comfy chairs and couches, and there soon will be a community meeting room. As the friends talked about their new space, two retired couples sat eating ice cream or drinking coffee and others came in to get beverages to go. According to the store's owners, when school gets out their store is often filled with high school students.
"We love Cannon Falls. They have just opened their arms to us," Hupf said.
Hupf and Ohmann are quick to open their arms as well, getting up to hug and chat with those coming into the store. They seem to know everyone. Even those who do not know the three women by name are beginning to recognize them. When running errands or walking around town, Lufkin, Hupf and Ohmann are often referred to as "the cheese ladies."
The local focus is carried to the ingredients used in the coffee and cheese. The coffee is roasted in Houston, Minn., spices come from members of a local peer group, and the milk will soon be from Hastings. Lufkin hopes that the walls of the ice cream and coffee shop will soon be covered in art from local artists.
The CannonBelles trio realized that 700 pounds of cheese a month is not enough. The demand, once again, is greater than the supply, so there are plans to build a CannonBelles cheese plant in Cannon Falls.
"I love our gouda, but I rarely get to buy any because we run out," Ohmann said.
Lufkin agreed and said, "I'm kind of upset that our cheese sells so well because I would really prefer it to pass its best-by date so that I can take it home. But that is not happening."
It is not uncommon for the ice cream and coffee shop to run out of a day's cheese supply before the store closes.
"We do know bigger chains that are interested in us, but we just can't make enough for them, so we can see that growth if we're able to open our own place," Lufkin explained.
Ground will be broken on the new plant later this year.
The three women originally looked for a building that they could refurbish, but since there are so many health regulations and requirements for supplies when it comes to cheese, the cost to build a new facility - one that they can tailor to meet all cheese-making needs - is about the same as investing in a building already standing.
For more information about the CannonBelles Coffee & Ice Cream shop and their cheese, visit www.cannonbelles.com.