May 31, 2018Year-round tasting room needs staff, space
An investment in year-round staff and expansion is paying off for Blake Farms in Armada, Michigan.
Blake’s Orchard grows 45 different apple varieties on more than 500 acres and runs the Cider Mill and Tasting Room, a restaurant and bar, in addition to packaging hard cider and offering a u-pick operation. Last fall, the Blake family decided to keep the company’s retail tasting room and restaurant open Wednesday-Sunday during winter weeks in order to make use of an expanded retail facility and staff the company was keeping on year-round.
“We’ve been extremely happy with the results through the winter,” co-owner Andrew Blake said. After the first year of keeping the tasting room open year-round, “we learned that you definitely have to run lean and run efficiently, but also have some year-round plans.”
During the launch, Blake’s issued promoted the new hours on social media and sent out press releases and media kits announcing the change. The resulting coverage by local and state media helped generate awareness for the additional hours.
Armada is a somewhat rural location, and during the snowy months, Blake’s became less of a tourist destination than it is in the peak fall season or even the summer. However, it remained greatly appreciated by the locals, he said. Visitors in February could stop in for premium coffee, hot chocolate, fresh-pressed cider and donuts in the morning. The Tasting Room was open for lunch and dinner with wine and craft beer.
“You can get wine, cider, beer, any of the products that we make on site,” Blake said.
The group also held a series of events to draw in customers.
“People want to get out and have experiences now more than ever, and we offer that with our Murder Mystery Dinners, Yoga and Pints, Paint and Pour, Sunday Brunch, and many others,” Marketing and Events Manager Chelsea Iadipaolo said.
Blake said there was no additional paperwork involved in keeping the Cider Mill and Tasting room open year-round, but “you just have to be able to invest in the full-time employees.”
In addition to keeping the shop open all winter, staff stayed busy by planning.
“We’re sort of mapping out our year differently,” Blake said.
Among the planning projects were the spring’s upcoming planting, as well as new programs for school harvest tours.
The expanded hours for the Cider Mill and Tap Room come as Blake’s is shipping its hard cider to a wider area including 16 states in the Midwest. A new facility for cider production in 2015 opened up space for the retail operation.
The company has gone from 200 to 40,000 square feet in four years, Iadipaolo said. The Cider Mill’s foot- traffic played a key role in the early stages of the hard cider company’s inception, but the two businesses support each other equally in this respect now, she added.
Co-owner Peter Blake said the success didn’t happen overnight.
“There have been some tough years, but with hard work and some creativity, we adapted,” he said in announcing the expanded schedule. “Our customers are the reason we have been able to grow, and we want to show them we were listening to their requests to stay open throughout the year.”
— Stephen Kloosterman, FGN assistant editor