The Panthers honored lifelong West Salem native Nick Miller, 37, as the 2017 homecoming parade marshal.
“It was a really neat honor,” he said after the parade.
Miller, a West Salem High School graduate and the owner of Le Coulee Cheese Castle in downtown West Salem, said it was an honor to be recognized by the community he knows and loves.
During his 15-year ownership of the Le Coulee Cheese Castle, he’s gotten to know many in the community.
“It’s important to know your customers,” he said.
Miller’s most loyal customers remain the kids.
Minutes after the final school bell tolls, Miller’s Shop is flooded with kids looking for an afternoon snack.
“Ice cream and candy are a big pull for the kids,” he said describing the line of students who snake through the shop.
As for the adults, he said cheese and gift boxes remain the most popular products.
After graduating high school in 1997, Miller, unlike many of his classmates, wanted to stay local. He liked the community where his family had settled.
He said there was something about the small town feel that connected with him.
Miller attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he received a degree in business management. At the time he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it, but it seemed like a good catch-all.
In 2003, Miller purchased Le Coulee Cheese Castle from the original owners Duane and Mary Lou Pfaff.
When he had learned the Pfaffs were retiring, he couldn’t bear to let the shop close. He was fresh out of college and looking for new opportunities.
“I had always thought it was a neat business,” he said. “I hated to see it close.”
As a business owner, Miller quickly established himself in the community.
“I liked working with people,” he said. “Even as the only employee, I get to interact with a lot of people.”
Fifteen years later, Miller said keeping customers coming in the door remains his greatest challenge.
“Keeping up with changing customer habits, you have to keep coming up with ways of getting people in the door,” he said.
Miller said keeping his wares fresh and interesting seems to help.
“People always want something different,” he said.
This extends to the wide selection of cheeses Miller sells.
“The weirder, the better,” he said pointing to a brick of beer cheese and blueberry white cheddar.
Miller said he still stocks the classics—cheddar, Colby and Swiss—but has found customers are often looking for something more unique.
“It’s because of the community that I am still here after 15 years,” he said.
Miller is also active in the Presbyterian Church in West Salem where he teaches Sunday school and serves on the church council.
He also participates in local causes such as the West Salem Historical Society and the annual West Salem Street Dance.