I've spent some time in Michigan. It's what happens when you marry into a Michigander family. Most of my time there though has been in the area of Ann Arbor and Detroit so my experience is sanctioned to a small portion of the state. When it came time to plan a trip to visit the in-laws, I knew I wanted to see more of what Michigan has to offer. Luckily, I have a friend in cheese that has a shop in Northern Michigan. Katie Potts opened Petoskey Cheese in 2015 and while anyone opening a shop is a feat in of itself, Katie was only 22 at the time. Katie went to college in Chicago to get a degree in Business and Entrepreneurship but she found her love of cheese while working behind the counter at Pastoral. She delved head first into the world of cheese, which is a character trait that seems to be a consistent theme with Katie. As graduation neared, the questions of what she was going to do with her life loomed large. She off handedly joked with her parents about owning a cheese shop when she retired, but they questioned why she would wait. They encouraged her to do it now. It seems that the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in her blood!
Petoskey, Michigan is a small, coastal resort on Little Traverse Bay. It is home to the famed Petoskey stone which is Michigan's state stone. It may seem familiar if you've read much Ernest Hemingway because he spent his summers near Walloon Lake as a child and wrote about the surrounding areas often. During the summers, tourism is the lifeblood of the area. Historic houses line the lakeside nearby and during the cold winter months, these houses sit empty, covered in plastic sheeting for protection. It's a quiet, sleepy kind of place in the winter but it doesn't take much imagination to see how lively and fun it gets during the summer.
Katie's shop is right in the heart of the walkable downtown district where the streets are lined with boutique shops, art galleries, and a million places to get your requisite Petoskey stone. Also, there is food, lots and lots of food. From American Spoon, to cute little coffee shops, dive bars, and local breweries, there is something that will please everyone in the realm of noshing. Petoskey Cheese fits perfectly into the food landscape that this small town is fostering.
We went for the Raclette lunch because the in laws had never had the wonders of this melted cheese and also because, well, melted cheese is delicious.
Katie's success is exciting and inspiring for lots of people that dream of one day owning their own shop. That's not to say it's been easy for her. Being a young entrepreneur has it's own set of obstacles that she is still facing. Getting capital for any business is difficult, but especially so when you are young and don't have the collateral to back up the investment from the bank. Katie would like to expand in the space next to her shop so she can better accommodate classes and seating for her new lunch program she is rolling out, but still finds acquiring money impossible. Her two year anniversary is later this year and hopefully, with the time and success she has been seeing, it might be a bit easier to get the banks to open their purse strings.
Things will likely never be "easy" for Katie but she does have one thing in spades, support from her community. Everywhere we went people knew her and talked about the last cheese they happened to buy from the shop. It's clear that the community is happy to have a homegrown business from a spunky and passionate woman.
Do yourself a favor, if you happen to live in a town with a specialty cheese shop, try your best to visit and spend money there. You'll get an experience unlike any you would get at a grocery store and it's vital to the small businesses in your community.