The family-owned Palatine Valley Dairy Cheese Factory and Store in Nelliston has been sold.
Earl Spencer, who with his wife, Carol, has owned and operated the Montgomery County cheddar business since 2002, said the new owner is George Haseotes, linked to the financially high-powered, Massachusetts-based Haseotes family.
“There is a new owner,” Spencer wrote in a January letter to his customers, “but hopefully you will not notice a difference in the products or the service.”
Spencer added that Haseotes’ goal is to keep Palatine the way it is. “The transition will be as seamless as possible,” Spencer wrote.
According to Forbes, the Haseotes family owns and operates 600 Cumberland Farms convenience stores in New England, New York, the mid-Atlantic states and Florida. The family also provides gasoline to about 2,500 Gulf fueling stations in the same regions.
The long-term investments have paid off; in 2015, Forbes ranked the Haseotes family 73rd in its ranking of America’s richest families, with a net worth of $3.9 billion.
Founded in 1980s
Palatine Cheese started during the late 1980s as a joint venture between the Spencers, then longtime dairy farmers, and local Amish farmers. The Amish eventually decided to market their milk in a different fashion. The Spencers bought out Amish interests and became sole owners of the business in January 2002.
Palatine is known for its line of cheddar and flavored cheddar products — bacon horseradish, wild onion and tomato basil are among the 29 flavors. Mild, sharp, extra sharp and smoked are among the six cheddar types sold. Cheese curds are also popular. Some vacuum-wrapped products are recognizable by the gold foil trim on the top, bottom and sides. There are also distinctive red and gold “Palatine Cheese” labels on packages.
Spencer said the business currently has 150 retail store customers, including many in the Capital Region, Saratoga Springs and North Country regions. In an interview at the store on Friday, Spencer said he had never planned for a long career in the cheese business.
“We stayed with it a lot longer than we anticipated,” he said. “It’s always been for sale. The first day we came down here it was up for sale.”
Timing is right
Sometimes people had interest, but not enough money. Haseotes had both, and his timing was right.
“I’m getting tired,” Spencer said. “We’re both 74.”
“What he wants to do is keep everything the same as what were doing,” Spencer said of Haseotes. “He’s talking about adding on a commodity operation at the other end which would be basically a separately run set-up that would have more sophisticated equipment, such that he could take trailer loads of milk and convert it to cheddar cheese. He would hold it just for a couple weeks, not looking to age this stuff for longer periods, then sell it on the commodity market.”
Spencer did not disclose the purchase price. The cheese factory store also includes a small assortment of gifts and locally manufactured foods, three tables with bench seats and curd samples.
A telephone call to Cumberland Farms’ corporate headquarters in Framingham, Mass., was not immediately returned late Friday afternoon. Neither was an e-mail message to Ari Haseotes, chief executive officer and president of the Cumberland Gulf Group.