The State Fair's purveyor of the Original Cheese Curds is turning up the pressure over the ouster of the family business from the Great Get-Together.
Tom Mueller, who claims he hasn't heard back from the State Fair about his request to keep the family stand open even as public support grows, has a lawyer and is ready to go to court.
As a public corporation, the fair is "entrusted with maintaining and preserving this cherished tradition and its institutions," said a letter from Mueller's attorney, Arthur Boylan, to fair General Manager Jerry Hammer. The letter was accompanied by a draft breach of contract lawsuit.
In an interview Wednesday, Boylan said fairgoers expect that behind the scenes the operations are open and honest.
But the fair failed to follow its own rules by "deliberately obscuring the availability of the process to transfer a business from one generation of a family to another and unlawfully interfering with the continuation of The Original Cheese Curds at the State Fair," he wrote. At a minimum, he continued, the "longtime and beloved" cheese curd vendors deserved "transparency of process and fair treatment."
Boylan said he would like to sit down with fair officials to reach a solution before going to court. "If we do not hear from you in the immediate future, we will proceed with the lawsuit," the letter said.
Hammer has said he receives regular requests to transfer operations from one generation of a family to the next and that they are mostly granted. He said the Muellers made no such request when they decided to retire.
Mueller is the son of fried curd pioneers Dick and Donna Mueller. Although the Muellers were first, they are now one of four deep-fried curd sellers and were ousted from their spot in the Food Building years ago.
Boylan said Mueller and his father sat down with fair officials in March 2016 to discuss the transfer process.
But Mueller said the fair notified him on April 5 that he was out.
Before the letter Wednesday, Mueller had issued public pleas and encouraged a social media campaign with the hashtag #SaveTheCurds.
Boylan said fair lawyers had contacted him late Tuesday to obtain documents, but no meeting has been set. His client will give the fair time to respond before filing the lawsuit, the lawyer said.
Hammer said he was limited in what he could say because of the potential lawsuit.