It’s All About Keeping Cheese Cool at Michigan’s ‘Little Bavaria’

Little Bavaria Cheese Haus

Two large stainless steel walk-in units and a 3-sided glass cooler are part of the success of the new Cheese Haus in Frankenmuth, a historical tourist village often referred to as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria.”

The $6 million building was enlarged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cheese Haus and to increase business production.

Food service consultant Millis & Associates of Detroit, Mich., worked with Imperial Brown consultants John and Phil Stiefel of Stiefel Distributing in Lansing, Mich., to design the unit.

The unit required extensive work at the drawing board because the box wrapped around a staircase and there was a basement to contend with, according to Dan Millis, owner of Millis & Associates. “That staircase was a moving target over the course of the design,” he added.

A basement always presents a challenge with walk-in coolers and freezers, he said. The basement dictated where the box could be located. With a basement, condensation can accumulate on the floor under a walk-in because the floor will be cold. “With this footprint, we were able to avoid the basement,” he said. Another option is insulating the floor.  “If the floor is insulated below or is eight inches thick, it’s workable for a walk-in,” he said.

Another challenge was trying to get as much glass as possible on the exterior of the box so that products could be displayed well.

Millis said that the staff at Imperial Brown did “a fantastic job, just like they always do. They absolutely met expectations,” he added.

Imperial Brown constructed three units for the new space:

  • • A 26-foot by 11-foot, 2 inch stainless steel walk-in cooler.
  • • A 16-foot, 11½-inch by 11-foot, 2-inch freezer for meats.
  • • And, the showcase, a 19-foot, 3-inch by 10-foot, 10-inch glass unit that is fitted around stairs leading to the second floor. Visitors see the cheeses inside as they move along the stairway.

That’s a lot of cool space for a cheese house, but this village is out to please. A top tourist attraction in Michigan, Frankenmuth was originally a farming community settled by Germans and holds on to its heritage. It is known for its unique shops, extensive selection of German beers, a gigantic Christmas store, and famous chicken dinners, featured at the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s, a restaurant that seats 1,500.

Frankenmuth Cheese Haus

The Zehnder family is said to have put the town on the map when they opened the first restaurant in the 1920s. Judy Zehnder Keller, a granddaughter of the restaurant’s original owner, is the proud owner of the Cheese Haus, along with other businesses.

“She made her dream come true with the new Cheese Haus,” says John Stiefel of Stiefel Associates, Inc. of Lansing, Mich., a food service equipment rep working with Imperial Brown. The Cheese Haus makes its own specialty cheeses and also features homemade candies, meats, and sauces.

Specialty Cheeses on a red checkered tablecloth.

The unique, customized glass unit used in the retail space “steps up” in proportion to the adjoining stairs. The windows in the unit decrease in size as the stairs ascend. The Imperial Brown construction and installation went well, Stiefel said, meeting the owner’s high standards.

The family business is a good match for Imperial Brown, with its own standards of “Integrity. Service. Excellence.” Cheese Haus owner Judy Zehnder Keller has been quoted as saying: “I’ve told my children, ‘You need to be the hardest working people here.’ They can’t just get by.”