Grande Cheese opens cutting-edge facility

Nate Beck
Now Media Group


Towering over budding fruit trees and a gravel walking path off Highway 151, Grande Cheese's headquarters, set in steel, glass and stone, looms as a thoroughly modern foil to the surrounding farmland.

Phase one of the company's years-long endeavor to build its new headquarters is complete, and with it comes a drive to stay at the forefront of the food-processing industry, which needs to attract and keep talent.

After walking through the building's front doors, visitors see an industrial kitchen, with granite counter tops and an oven set in red tile. The kitchen is where the company demonstrates through webinars how its cheese melts, chars and bubbles as it should.

There's an in-house health clinic, too, a separate wing of Grande's building, connected to a gym with all the trimmings. Upstairs near the sales and marketing wing is a game room complete with shuffleboard and Ping-Pong - 'take a break till the cows come home' is written on a floor-to-ceiling mural.

Grande's elaborate vision for its headquarters is largely an appeal to its 175 or so employees and the talent it hopes to hire in the future, said Wayne Matzke, president and CEO of the company. The commissioned art that hangs on the walls, the glass and steel accents - all of it - is meant to uncouple Grande from a public perception of a cheese company where employees tromp across muddy farmland working with dairy cows.

'We're building this brand and we're growing as a company,' Matzke said. 'And we know what it takes to do that.'

Over the privately held company's 75-year history, Grande Cheese has built its business supplying hometown family pizza shops and other independent restaurants with mozzarella, Asiago and other cheeses processed across seven locations. Through a network of 100 dairies, the company makes cheese and whey, which it sells to companies makings energy drinks, granola bars and other goods.

To position itself to attract the best and brightest, Grande through its headquarters has committed to a work-life balance. With the touch of a button, the desks rise to fit a standing worker. A trail that circles the 40-acre property stretches more than a mile; during lunch break, an employee could log nearly three miles by walking two laps, Matzke said.

When scouting a location for the headquarters, Grande considered sites across the Fox Valley before settling on a stretch of land near the intersection of Highway 151 and Interstate 41 in Fond du Lac. Though Philadelphia firm Olin and others designed the landscape and buildings, local companies largely completed the job.

The company spent years planning the expansion. Its executives, after pouring over plans for the building's design, have draped the campus in symbolism, Matzke said. The main structure is meant to replicate Wisconsin barns, with their stone foundations and wooden walls. A fruit orchard reflects Grande founder Filippo Candela's Sicilian roots.

'Fond du Lac and this area is where we've been,' Matzke said. 'It's been the life of our company. When you've been somewhere for 75 years, you want to be able to remember your heritage and focus on where you're going.'