NORTON, Ohio — From presidents to governors to every-day customers, Grandpa’s Cheesebarn is a beloved regional institution. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that there has been an outpour of support following the deaths of the fixtures of the family business: Paul Baum, the "grandpa" in Grandpa’s Cheesebarn, and his wife, Vera Baum. The beloved duo died within two days of one another and one week after celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary.
Anyone who has driven the interstate south from Cleveland has likely seen the sign and the hard-to-ignore advertisement for “Grandpa’s Cheesebarn and Sweeties Chocolates.” Those who are curious enough to take Exit 185 on I-71 would be greeted with the beloved store’s original location in Ashland, which was, as advertise, a cheese-filled barn.
Founded in 1978, the cherished Ohio institution has since expanded to three locations, broadening its loyal, devoted customer base, who not only came to find the finest cheese and sweets but to also be treated as a member of the family.
The business has remained in the family since its inception. Paul and Vera’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren also work there. Paul and Vera also continued to work there on a part-time basis, even into their 90s.
In many respects, the business reflects how they lived their life.
“Sometimes we had to share them because everybody loved them,” said Mistie Hray, Paul’s granddaughter. “We may walk into the store but there may be a customer there that was waiting for a hug and we had to wait our turn. We loved to share him.”
Hray manages the business’ location in Norton and, someday, perhaps her daughter, Morgan, will take it over in the future. Although statistics show family-run businesses grow exponentially more difficult as they pass from generation to generation, Grandpa’s Cheesebarn has continued to thrive, due in large part to the lessons that Paul and Vera instilled in the family.
“Hard work is a good thing and it’s not something to run from. I also think they both shared that giving spirit and how loving people back is so important,” Hray said. “You know what, sometimes someone is short a couple bucks and it’s not a bad thing to let them have a piece of cheese.”
Paul met Vera in 1949 when he was a meat-cutter in the back of a grocery store and he noticed the charming checkout girl working in the front. One night, one of Vera’s brothers asked Paul to give his sister a ride home.
They married six months later.
“They loved each other so much. Grandma said to my mom at one point, ‘Grandpa was so easy to love,’” Hray said. “We have joy knowing of course that they are in heaven together and we have joy in the fact that people loved him and grandma as well. That makes everyone in the family so happy knowing how much they were loved.”
On Dec. 8, Paul Baum passed away peacefully at the age of 93. Two days later, Vera passed away as well. They had just celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary on Dec. 4.
“It’s difficult for us, and I think it was such a good thing for them. They were always together and their love was always together,” Hray said. “For us, it was so unexpected. I really believe that they decided they were ready to go.”
In the days following their deaths, Hray said she lost count of the number of customers — both near and distant — who have offered their condolences and shared heart-warming stories of how much Paul and Vera meant to them. Their deaths also come at one of the busiest times for the business, which has allowed family members to find a temporary reprieve from the grief.
Even still, their memory is everywhere.
“Honestly, it’s hard for me to even remember a time they weren’t at the store. It’s been our whole life, so we’re really going to miss them,” Hray said. “That’s what the customers say: ‘we still see your grandparents in you and your family.’ That’s very comforting. I think eventually we’ll be able to tell so many good stories without crying.”