CannonBelles, an award-winning cheese company based in Cannon Falls, received a Small Enterprise Loan from SMIF in 2021. Deeann Lufkin, co-owner of CannonBelles, shared some of the history of how she and her business partners started their business, and how SMIF has supported its growth.
Tell us about your business.
Back in the fall of 2012, my friend Jackie and I decided to try to make cheese for the first time. We had been making beer and wine together for a few years and were ready for a new challenge. Jackie had also married a dairy farmer, so she had a fresh supply of great milk.
The first cheese we made was a quick mozzarella. We thought it was great at first, but an hour later we realized it was a flavorless cross between mozzarella and “the blob.” We decided to try again, but this time we used cheddar cheese cultures and a recipe we got from a local beer-making supply store which also sold some simple cheese-making ingredients. This time, it looked, felt, smelled and tasted like cheese! We thought we’d keep trying, and it just got better!
We liked our cheese so much that we thought we could start to sell it. Our friends and family seemed to really like it, so why wouldn’t everyone else? We knew we needed the help of a dairy expert, so we asked our friend, Kathy, if she’d like to join our venture. I don’t think we got the question out completely before she said yes. She grew up on a dairy farm, used to have her own herd, and has a degree in animal husbandry.
With the three of us ready to go, we really began researching what we needed in order to make this a successful business. We visited numerous cheese plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin, asking questions of anyone we could. We joined the American Cheese Society. We took courses to learn as much as possible. We found contractors who helped us develop business plans and write grant proposals. We also joined SMIF’s Local Food Peer Network to meet with other artisan food-makers from southern Minnesota.
In the Fall of 2015, Jackie got a message from Dave Maroney, the Director of Economic Development and Planning for Cannon Falls. He had heard we were looking for a home for our business, and asked us to come meet with him. We did, and loved what we heard. Thus was born our relationship with our new hometown, Cannon Falls.
CannonBelles Cheese is now an award-winning artisan cheese company. While our business is located in Cannon falls, we had been making cheese at the University of Minnesota Pilot Plan since August 2016 because that is one of the only places in Minnesota to rent commercial cheese-making equipment. However, we just opened our own plant in Cannon Falls where we will be making Gouda, Cheddar, Cheese Curds and our American Cheese Society, First Place winning Queso Fresco! We also own CannonBelles Coffee and Ice Cream Shop which opened in 2019 and doubles as a retail location for our cheese.
How did the loan from SMIF help your business grow?
It helped us pay for marketing, such as social media, website and professional pictures. These items will help take our marketing materials to a more professional level as we begin to reach out to more stores to expand our markets.
Why did you choose SMIF as a lender?
We chose SMIF to help grow our business because they are easy to work with and invited us to be a part of their Food Peer Network. Everyone we’ve worked with at SMIF has been nothing but wonderful! They are friendly, patient and very understanding of us. We couldn’t be where we are today without their help! We also received professional help from SMIF after the loan (like help with Quick Books).
What was your experience like working with SMIF?
Our experience with SMIF has been exceptional! We LOVE everyone at SMIF. They truly feel like a partner and not just a lender. They truly care about each of the small businesses they help. SMIF has been a godsend to our company. Without their help and guidance, we would not be in the great position that we are today.
SMIF’s Small Enterprise Loan program provides micro loans through a partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA). These loans support small business owners or start-up entrepreneurs who create service, retail, local foods, and manufacturing businesses. Small Enterprise Loan recipients are eligible for free technical assistance.
Contact Marcia Haley, Lending Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
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