Linda “Pinky” White remembers hauling wheels of Wisconsin cheese in and out of her home in Longmont in the early days of Cheese Importers, a shoe string wholesale operation she started with her husband Lyman.
The couple had tried other businesses, mostly revolving around natural food co-ops. A meeting with a great uncle in New York City convinced the Whites to get into the expanding world of artisan cheeses.
The opportunity seemed ripe since Americans in the early 1970s were looking to expand their palates and looked to Europe for new tasting adventures in fine food like cheese, wine and meats, Linda White said.
“He said the market was just opening up and we should give it a try,” Linda White said. “We trusted him so off we went.”
After surviving the death of Lyman in an motorcycle accident in 2010, the flood of 2013, and COVID-19 restrictions, Cheese Importers endured and is ready to re-open its cozy French bistro to walk-in customers this spring after being shuttered two years ago during the pandemic.
The resilience of the White family is being recognized on Sept. 15 as they are being inducted into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame. A luncheon will be held that day from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel in Boulder, 2601 Canyon Blvd.
The Whites were nominated for the Hall of Fame by former Longmont mayor Leona Stoecker, who worked to keep Cheese Importers from moving to Lafayette over a decade ago, said Samm White, one of Linda’s sons and the company’s retail sales manager.
Samm White, said he is still a little skeptical that the company deserves recognition. “There is just something in me that thinks we are not that great,” Samm White said. “But we have worked hard, all of us, and we are doing what we love to do.”
Clara White, one of Linda’s daughters, said the company blossomed by recognizing that people want a taste of Old World comfort food and lifestyle. “You can walk into the bistro, and for just a little bit, you are somewhere else in this busy, busy world,” Clara White said. “We have been able to create that.”
The Whites, who moved to Longmont in the early 1970s, started selling six varieties of Wisconsin cheese from their home. As the business grew, the Whites drew their children into the operation and moved to several locations to accommodate growth, including at the Old Cannery building, Samm White said.
Meanwhile, the Whites developed relationships with other iconic businesses in Boulder County including Wild Oats, Alfalfas and Boulder Breadworks, according to the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame biography of the business.
Good karma led the Whites to the old Longmont power building at 103 Main Street in 2016, which they leased, Samm White said. Once there, they were able to stretch their wholesale and retail offerings, White said.
“We were able to work with the city of Longmont for the building and we couldn't have done it without the city’s help,” he said.
The company includes buyers from several major grocery stores looking for specialty cheeses. The company offers as many as 500 types imported from throughout Europe.
Local cheese producers still make up the bulk of Cheese Importers offerings, Clara White said. “We always use and buy locally for our store,” she said. “They offer great products and we want to support them.”
The company’s French bistro and gift shop also offer a nice touch to a business that attracts as many as 80,000 people, according to a city of Longmont estimate. “A lot of our business is word of mouth,” Samm White said. “We count on that solid base of customers who tell other people about our business. We depend on them getting the word out about us.”