NEWS

Renard's Cheese closes Algoma store, workers move to Sturgeon Bay site

Christopher Clough
Door County Advocate

ALGOMA - A cornerstone of the retail cheese market in Kewaunee County has closed its doors, but it's trying to make the best of a difficult situation by making conditions better for its staff at its Door County location.

Tourists heading up to Door County via Highway S were greeted by Renard's Cheese iconic sign.

Renard's Cheese, a family-owned local artisan cheese maker with retail shops in Sturgeon Bay and Algoma, made the decision to close down its Algoma store on County S on Oct. 5.

However, the Sturgeon Bay store, on County DK just off State 57, remains open as usual and cheese-making operations are not affected. And, no jobs were lost because of the closing because the Algoma store's five employees all will work in the Sturgeon Bay store about 13 miles away.

That's because the closure wasn't due to a downturn in business – quite the opposite, said Ann Renard, co-owner with her husband, master cheesemaker Chris Renard. Instead, it's because both stores, especially the Algoma location, struggled to get and maintain the staffing levels necessary to provide strong customer service, Renard said.

Chris and Ann Renard are co-owners of Renard's Cheese, Renard's Cheese, a family-owned local artisan cheese maker with a retail shop in Sturgeon Bay.

"Up until recently, Renard's Cheese has avoided the impact of these (staffing) shortages, however this is no longer the case," the Facebook post read in part. "In order to maintain our outstanding customer service and to ensure our team members reasonable working hours and work/life balance, we have made the difficult decision to close the Algoma retail store. This will allow us to combine our amazing team members at one location to serve our valued customers with the highest level of service we can provide."

The third-generation cheese-making company was founded in 1961. It opened its first retail shop in Sturgeon Bay in 1975, with the Algoma store opening a year later.

"It's definitely not easy," Renard said to the Advocate about the closure. "But I work in-house with the staff daily, as does Chris. After watching the staff work shorthanded, (closing the store) was best for the company."

The announcement came with little if any notice, but Renard said their stores have been short-staffed at both locations since at least June. It came to a head when it appeared neither store would be adequately staffed for the coming weekend, and Renard said one consideration was reducing hours at one or both locations.

"If we had continued down this path, we would not have had full staff at either location," Renard said. "(The closing) came relatively quickly, but a lot of thought was put into it. By combining to one store now, it's workable."

Employees at the Renard's Rosewood Dairy plant north of Algoma fill 5 lb. packages of freshly made mozzarella sticks.

Renard said the retail business, and other retail and food service businesses in the area, have faced staffing problems for the past two or three years, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that swept into Wisconsin in the spring of 2020 and growing worse in August and September when some of her stores' summer help returned to school.

She said the shortage generally is caused both by a lack of applicants for open positions — by the way, Renard's currently has openings at the cheese-making plant, in production and in the Melt Bistro at the Sturgeon Bay store — and the challenges some employees experience these days to keep working their jobs, such as finding child care.

The continued shorthandedness wasn't just a customer service concern but also a concern for the pressure felt by the staff at both stores to be able to perform to their standards and maintain a healthy balance between work and life, Renard said.

"Since June, it really has become a challenge," she said. "You can only go so long running shorthanded."

But Renard was able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear by having the Algoma store workers join the staff at the Sturgeon Bay store, where its open hours can now remain unchanged.

"They're happy to be here," Renard said about the former Algoma staff. "We're ecstatic because the (Sturgeon Bay) team is being alleviated from the pressures at the store."

Ann Renard, says the decision to close the retail outlet in Algoma was due to struggles in maintaining staffing levels necessary to provide strong customer service

And Renard said the help is needed because business remains strong.

"From a company perspective, it's still great times for us," Renard said. "We continue to be popular and continue to grow. It's just one time when we had to make this decision.

"We actually consider ourselves very lucky." 

Renard's Cheese store and its Melt Bistro are at 2189 County DK, Sturgeon Bay. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call 920-825-7272 or visit renardscheese.com.