The uninitiated might think those cheesy-looking foam hats worn
by thousands of Packers fans arrived on the fashion scene during
Green Bay's recent run to Super Bowl XXXI. But there would be
holes in that story. Actually, cheese hats have been around
since 1987 and were introduced not at Packers games but at
Brewers games at Milwaukee County Stadium.
These days fans have their choice of cheesy chapeaus. Foamation
Inc., in Milwaukee, produces the Cheesehead, at $10.50 and $20,
while Scofield Souvenir, Inc., in Menomonee Falls, Wis., sells
the $20 Cheese Top. But don't invite Foamation and Scofield to
the same wine-and-cheese tasting. While Brett Favre, Reggie
White and the rest of the Packers have been fighting it out on
the field with the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots,
Scofield and Foamation have been slicing each other up in the
U.S. district court in Milwaukee. More on that later.
The first American cheeses were of the brick variety, produced
in Wisconsin in 1877. Foamation was born one summer night 110
years later, when company founder Ralph Bruno fashioned a hat
that resembled a triangular slice of cheese out of a piece of
used furniture foam and wore it to a Brewers game.
Bruno took a handful of his Cheeseheads to County Stadium and
eventually persuaded stadium officials to offer them for sale.
Then he started peddling them to cheese shops and sporting goods
stores. In 1991 he teamed with Chris Becker, who took over the
marketing so that Bruno could concentrate on manufacturing. "At
one time, some people thought Cheesehead was a derogatory term,"
Becker says. "Then, all of a sudden, it became cool to be a
Foamation's offerings go beyond the traditional Cheesehead
topper, which comes in two sizes. They include cheeselike can
and six-pack holders, coasters, a cowboy hat, a fire hat,
cufflinks, earrings, a necktie and a bow tie, bricks, a clock, a
purse and a football. Bruno and Becker won't divulge their
annual sales figures, but they say business is booming.
The newcomer to the cheese-hat scene is Scofield Souvenir, now
owned by lifelong Packers fan William Jacobs. Last year Scofield
introduced its Cheesetop hat, the Cheesebottom seat cushion and
a can holder. All three have been big sellers, says Tom
Wedeward, who sold Scofield to Jacobs last January and is
currently a consultant to the company. "Sports fans throughout
the state have been starving for years," Wedeward says. "The
Badgers made the Rose Bowl a few years back, but otherwise it's
been a long dry spell for the Pack, the Brewers and the
[Milwaukee] Bucks. That's what made last year so special for the
Packers. Even outside Wisconsin, people appreciate the team and
its players, the city, the football heritage of Green Bay."
Becker agrees. Stores in Chicago, not known as a hotbed of
Packers enthusiasts, were running out of Cheeseheads last
season. "There are Packers fans all over the world, and they're
amazing," Becker says. "We were busy even when the Packers
weren't doing so good. The Packers are a true hometown team, and
the fans have been there for them, even when they're cruddy. But
the last few years, it's been truly nuts."
That may be the only thing Becker and Wedeward agree on. Last
year Foamation sued Scofield for copyright infringement.
Foamation recently lost that case, and Scofield has countersued
for interference with business, defamation and unfair competition.
The legal dispute has Wedeward feeling blue, even though his
former company prevailed in the first round. "The lawsuits put a
damper on what's supposed to be fun," he says, "but that's the
way things go sometimes."
Freelance writer Mark Mandernach prefers his cheese with ham on