John Loomis grew up thinking Velveeta and canned brie were the last word in cheese, but he's come a long way in his career as a professional cheese-maker. After 30 years of making cheese, including co-founding Zingerman's Creamery in Ann Arbor, Loomis and his wife Ruth will open their own cheese shop in Saline this summer.
Loomis recently signed a lease for the building at 98 N. Ann Arbor St. in Saline, formerly the home of Oxygen Plus. He hopes to be open for business in late June or early July.
The Cheese Shop of Saline will offer a variety of cheeses, along with accompaniments like cured meats, olive oil, bread, wine, and craft beer. Loomis also plans to offer cheese tasting classes and cheese-making workshops.
Loomis' connection to dairy goes back to his childhood. He grew up working jobs in Detroit's dairy industry but later moved away to Chicago to pursue work in theater and advertising.
"I celebrated the fact that I would never set foot in a dairy again," Loomis laughs.
After spending several years in Chicago, Loomis moved back to Michigan. He was living in Oakland County when his brother called him and asked if he was interested in starting up a creamery to produce artisanal cheeses.
"I thought it was a stupid idea," Loomis says. But his brother persisted, explaining how different small-scale artisan cheese-making is from the huge dairy plants Loomis had worked in as a youth.
Loomis and his brother went to Zingerman's in Ann Arbor to learn more about the world of cheese, and Loomis ended up sampling cheeses he'd "had no idea existed."
Loomis spent time visiting artisan cheese-makers around the U.S. but wasn't impressed. He went through a list of European cheese-makers, asking to be taken on as an apprentice, but most of them thought he was crazy.
Loomis lucked out when a crusty Englishman making cheese in Wales agreed to a two-week visit. Then those two weeks ended up turning into two years.
When he came back to the U.S., Loomis began a small raw milk cheese business, and Zingerman's was his biggest customer. After a few years, he, along with Zingerman's co-founders Ari Weinzweig Paul Saginaw, established Zingerman's Creamery, which became immediately popular with Ann Arbor-area residents.
Loomis says he learned a great deal about giving spectacular customer service through his time with Zingerman's, but ironically the creamery's success meant that Loomis was drawn away from the part of the business he liked the most: spreading the good word of good cheese.
Opening up his cheese shop in Saline will allow him to interact more closely with customers and work with his wife, he says.
One of his biggest goals for the cheese shop is to make sure nobody goes home with a cheese they don't like.
"I want to make sure everybody tastes before they buy," he says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at email@example.com.
John and Ruth Loomis photo courtesy of the Loomis family.
98 N. Ann Arbor St. photo courtesy of Swisher Commercial.