April 2013 Issue
Cheeses and chocolates to go have been luring travelers to Grandpa’s Cheesebarn for 35 years.
Port wine cheddar and Asiago are Dawn Cragon’s favorites. But today, her basketful of goodies includes hot pepper and chipotle grilling cheese, sugar-free jellies and a birthday card for her husband.
Like most of the customers at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn in Ashland, Cragon is a traveler. Enticed by the billboards along Interstate 71 near Exit 186, she readily gives in to the siren song of the roadside signs leading to the big white barns near the freeway.
In fact, the 41-year-old Ashtabula County treasurer is a regular. She stops by the dairy lover’s paradise on U.S. Rte. 250 every month on her way home from business meetings in Columbus.
Cragon’s eyes light up when she spots “Grandpa” Dick Baum, 84, sipping coffee at a table in the café. She grabs her phone and asks if he’ll pose for a picture with her.
“We love the cheeses here and all the ideas for entertaining,” she enthuses, recounting stories about how much she enjoys finding different flavors to share with friends, and recalling how disappointed her husband was the one time she came home empty-handed after driving straight through in a snowstorm.
“[I’d say] 95 percent of our business comes from travelers off I-71, and we get lots of regulars,” says Pappy Poorbaugh, 36, who runs the third-generation family business.
Mindful of grandpa’s wisdom that travelers are always looking for spotless restrooms and hot coffee, Pappy carries on the family traditions, making cleanliness a top priority. He willingly shares his secret for good coffee: “We use a little salt to take out the bitterness, and we make it on the strong side,” he confides.
Family and Faith
Besides Grandpa’s Cheesebarn — which Pappy’s parents, Dick and Ronda Poorbaugh, started 35 years ago — the family also operates Sweetie’s Jumbo Chocolates, located in a second barn-style building on the property. The candy shop was named after the Sweet 16, Ashland High School’s dance team — called the Sweeties, for short. Ronda was a member of the team in the early ’70s.
Dick and Ronda moved the family into the old farmhouse overlooking the interstate, and converted the barn that once housed cows on the first floor and a hayloft above it into Grandpa’s Cheesebarn. The moniker refers to Ronda’s dad, Dick Baum, who smoked meats and sold Amish dairy products at his own cheesehouse in West Salem.
The Poorbaughs opened their establishment in November 1978, with just a single wood stove in the center of the store for heat. Pappy recalls it was so cold that everyone wore gloves inside and sometimes the cheese would freeze on the counters. Grandpa’s started with two dozen kinds of cheese and a variety of sundries, ranging from toothpaste to suede billfolds. Initially, Dick kept his job as a business teacher at Mapleton High School, and the couple hired a neighbor to run the store. With three young children in tow, Ronda helped out as best she could.
But even with the prime location, there was no exit at Route 250 back then. Which meant it could be a challenge finding the place.
From the beginning, Dick says, he prayed that God would help customers find his fledgling business.
“Without the Lord — and billboards,” Dick says, “we could have never made it.”
Sweet and Savory
Through the years, the ever-burgeoning business has been transformed into a specialty foods emporium that includes a cafe, ice cream parlor and gift shop — as well as 150 varieties of cheese, cheese spreads, dips, soup mixes, seasonings, relishes, syrups and jellies. Samples throughout the store give customers plenty of opportunities to taste before they buy.
Sweetie’s Jumbo Chocolates features 17 kinds of homemade fudge, 13 flavors of coated pretzels and 32 varieties of sugar-free treats. The chocolate-covered bacon is made with meat smoked on site.
Chocolate-dipped strawberries make appearances on Valentine’s Day and Sweetest Day and at the store’s annual Fourth of July Strawberry Fest. Three small barn-style outbuildings serve as kitchens for food preparation and candy-making.
The family is committed to featuring local products. The honey sold at Grandpa’s is produced within five miles of the store. Summer brings a local farmer’s market, filled with fresh produce grown nearby.
Today, Pappy and his wife, Brice — who started working for the Cheesebarn when she was 16 — live in the old farmhouse just a stone’s throw from the barns. While most of their customers are out-of-towners, the majority of the family’s 48 employees live in Ashland.
And most afternoons, while Pappy is working inside the stores or around the grounds, “Grandpa” Dick can be found manning the cash register behind the second-floor cheese counter, happily chatting with customers.
“People are surprised that we still take plenty of time to talk with them,” Grandpa says. “We know if we [forge] relationships with them, they’ll be back.”
Grandpa’s Cheesebarn is located at 668 U.S. Rte. 250 E, Ashland 44805. For information, call 800/745-7091 or visit grandpascheesebarn.com. Hours: Mon.–Thur., 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Grandma' Lemon Cheese Bars
Courtesy Grandpa's Cheesebarn
Makes 16–24 bars
1 package lemon-flavored cake mix
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired
Mix cake mix, 1 egg and 1/3 cup oil until crumbly, reserving about 1 cup of the mixture for topping. Pat remaining mixture lightly into an ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Beat together sugar, lemon juice, cream cheese and 1 egg until light and smooth. Pour over partially baked layer and spread to cover. Sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over the top. Bake 15 minutes more. Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into bars.
to get the recipe for Grandma's Favorite Hash Brown Casserole.