Tiny Store, Big Heart: Nelson Cheese Factory gets new owner, new name
When Ann Weix started working part time at Nelson Cheese Factory, then just a tiny cheese shop on Harding Ave., in 1987, it was only to make an extra buck while attending UW-Eau Claire. A friend of her mother suggested she apply, and it was a good fit for the time being. She left Eau Claire after graduation, but only for about six months before the owner of Nelson Cheese called her up and asked that she take over management of the Eau Claire location. After thirty years of management, Weix will finalize her purchase of the business in August, and Nelson Cheese Factory will become Eau Claire Cheese and Deli.
The new name is in part a technicality, as Eau Claire Cheese and Deli will offer the same products, sandwiches, and smiling service locals are accustomed to. But it is also in part a celebration of the community that has supported the business for decades. Love of her city inspired sandwich names such as the “Bracket Ave. Beef” and the “Harding Classic,” and now it inspired the store’s new name.
Weix stayed with Nelson Cheese Factory for so long in part because of the business’ family-friendly policy. She says her children practically grew up in the store, and all of them worked in the deli at some point. Her daughter, Aubrey, teared up trying to describe the fun she’s had working with her mother since she was 15-years-old.
The Nelson Cheese Factory, which offers a selection of charcuterie, pickled goods, jams, honeys, crackers, and local and international cheeses as well as a deli menu, often earns slots in Volume One’s Best of the Valley reader poll. In 2018, it placed for best sandwich, best kept secret, and best place to buy cheese. But awards don’t communicate the neighborly, small-town vibe of the venue. Weix develops personal relationships with repeat customers – people recognize her and her family when they are out about town and stop them to catch up.
“They come in once weekly, or twice a week, they tell you about their weekends, or how their week is going,” Weix said. “We have some people that you get to know on such a personal level that if they are ill, or can’t come here and eat something, all they have to do is call me, I’ll run it over to their house.”
She speaks lovingly of her favorite customers, some of whom her family has regular outings with, and of her employees. “I feel very lucky to have employees that stick around, and when I need help they’re always willing to come in and help,” she said.
Weix was faced with the decision to purchase Nelson Cheese Factory last year, when the owners decided to pull out of the Eau Claire location. They gave her the option to buy the place, and at first she was resistant. “I said no right away, I didn’t want the store,” she said, “but I didn’t want to see it leave.” So, with the support of her family, she stepped up to the plate.
Weix has plans to expand the ice cream selection, add waffle cones, and eventually offer made-to-order box lunches, but she intends to approach changes with baby steps. She views the purchase as a new adventure for herself and her family, and wants to take the transition slow and steady.
“The store has been a staple in the Eau Claire community for over 35 years,” Weix said. “I’m sure for those in the community, we will always be remembered as Nelson Cheese Factory, and I’m OK with that. It will be the same atmosphere and the same people and the same product, and we hope that you’ll still visit us.”
Nelson Cheese Factory, soon to be Eau Claire Cheese and Deli, is located at 1636 Harding Ave. It’s open Monday-Saturday from 9am-5pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.