FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - It's hard to imagine the Minnesota State Fair without cheese curds, but when Dick and Donna Mueller introduced their deep fried cheese curd fritters alongside the Skarda family back in 1975 they weren't sure they'd last.
"We started at 75 cents," Dick Mueller said. "It took quite a while to get going because people didn't know what they were."
Over the next four decades, business boomed. Their booth inside the Minnesota State Fair food building morphed into an iconic yellow building on Dan Patch Ave. which has become a traditional stop for many fairgoers, even serving as a backdrop for some devoted fans wedding and engagement photos.
"I can't tell you why it caught on," Mueller said with a smile.
But Mueller can tell you that now that he has reached 80 years old, he and his co-owners are ready to hang it up.
"We just decided our health isn't going to let us do this," Mueller said. "You're talking 16-18 hours a day and at that age it just had to be done. I just had to be done."
Mueller didn't want his retirement to mean the end of the business.
"I think we're part of the history and you want to continue it with your family if you can," Mueller said.
He had hoped his son could take it over, but State Fair administrators told him it wasn't an option.
Jim Sinclair, deputy general manager for the Minnesota State Fair, says there have been times when food stand operators have been allowed to transfer their business to others, but he says it has been rare in recent years.
"We generally appreciate the longevity of the prior operator, but we want to look in a new direction if that opportunity presents itself," Sinclair said. "There will still be plenty of cheese curds on the fairgrounds."
Sinclair says there were other operators who had exciting proposals for the stand, and he says it allows the Fair to add more variety in an area that already has a cheese curd stand nearby.
"That's one of things we always look at is spreading products out, particularly similar, alike products," Sinclair said.
"It's tough, it's a tough decision," Mueller said.
Though the decision is final, Mueller says it's hard to hear his original cheese curds being compared to others.
"We were called the originals for a reason," he said. "And they were the best."
Mueller says he was told the stand was going to be given to a bacon vendor, that needed room to expand. Sinclair says that is one of several options and no final contracts have been signed.
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