A People-based Business

by | Jan 1, 2024 | 0 comments

A cheese shop, in Wisconsin, at first blush may not seem like something special, but Fromagination, at 12 S. Carroll street on the capitol square, is not just a cheese shop. Don’t be mistaken, they certainly sell cheese, (mostly) artisan crafted, (mostly) locally sourced, amazing cheese; and when I talked to Fromagination’s owner, Ken Monteleone, I expected to hear a lot about cheese. But what I heard a lot about was people.

“It is all about the people,” Ken told me. “It is all about the artisans, about the team, about the customers, about neighbors, about the diversity of our staff, about the diversity of cheese.” Ken is animated talking about the people that make Fromagination possible. He told me that when he opened the shop in 2007 it was all about a love of cheese and that now things had changed, and it is all about a love of people. Even when we briefly talked about the homeless that inhabit the area around the capitol, Ken described them as neighbors and welcome.

I asked Ken what someone should expect if they came into his shop, and he told me that Fromagination is a European-style shop with Wisconsin charm. He told me about being able to sample more than 100 different cheeses, and in addition to actually tasting the cheese themselves, folks would get to hear the stories behind the flavors, the story of the farms where they were produced, and about the cheesemakers. There is also sausage, and honey, and crackers, and, and, and. He told me that he wants people in his store to have fun, that he wants Fromagination to be the antithesis of the drudgery of grocery shopping—a place where a customer might find the person who made the food they are selling offering samples and telling the story of the food they make.

The pandemic of course brought changes to Fromagination, as it did for all of us. Unlike many businesses, food-based businesses like Fromagination thrived. Prior to Covid, almost all of the business was done in person, in the store, face-to-face. But because of Ken’s commitment to people, and the community, and a healthy dose of good luck, Fromagination was featured on The Today Show as part of their Giving Tuesday segment in response to Fromagination’s donations to Second Harvest Food Bank. With lots of help from Ken’s partner, Kyle, who is responsible for building the store’s online presence, they were able to pivot to online orders featuring a “Social Distancing Gift Set,” shipping them all over the country. Which led to yet another way to connect with people: Cheese classes. The first were online; every kit contained a link to a Zoom meeting where Ken and his staff got to continue to tell the stories of cheese, and flavor, and pairings, and producers—but this time with a national audience. Ken tells me they don’t do nearly as many online classes today, but has continued to teach in-person classes, which he says he wonders why they didn’t start doing sooner.

Yes, Fromagination is a cheese shop. They sell cheese and the things that surround it, but that feels like it is almost incidental to Ken’s zest for caring for the people around him, for the cheese producers, for the new small producers who are just getting started and caring for the land, for his diverse staff of folks he hopes to mentor into the people they want to be, for the homeless, the politicians, and even you—if you are lucky enough to get some Fromagination on your tastebuds.


Vivienne Andersen, who’s first word was “eat,” is a full-time REALTOR® with eXp Realty in Madison. She grew up in California, but is not at all what the Beach Boys had in mind. She serves on the Cultural Diversity in Housing Committee at the WRA, and blogs about the Madison Real Estate Market at VivienneAndersen.com.

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