Caseys start 10th season at Wicks, 60Published 9:27pm Wednesday, June 9, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
When she graduated from Union High School in 1991, Kelli (Scherer) Casey saw herself as a stay-at-home mom, not starting her 10th season operating Wicks’ Apple House, which itself is observing its 60th anniversary.
“2001 was our first year. I was 26 years old,” she said Wednesday seated at one of the tables in the busy restaurant.
“It’s been a lot of fun and a great place for my two daughters (Alyssa, 13, finishing seventh, and fourth grade) to grow up. (Madelyn) was only 17 months old our first season and now here she is 10 1/2.
“That part has gotten a lot easier. When they were little it was hard to be here all the time. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. I work fulltime for six months, then I’m off for six months. We really enjoy it and it’s a wonderful business to keep the family close.
“Most of the (20 to 25) employees have been here longer than I’ve been alive and they love my husband and children as much as I do. They have families and keep coming back, year after year. My restaurant manager and I went to high school together. My bakery manager, her whole family worked for the Wickses. Sixty years is a long time. People can’t believe we’ve had it for 10 years. Literally, my children have grown up here.”
Her husband, Jerry, DUHS ’86, sells insurance for Farm Bureau. Weekends he is pursuing their new summer venture, selling baked goods – doughnuts, pies, cinnamon rolls and fruit breads – strawberries and asparagus at a Chicagoland farm market on Fridays and the Niles Bensidoun French Market on Saturdays.
“They’re owned by the same company,” she said.
Wicks’ has weathered the Great Recession thanks to what Kelli calls “two seasons within a season” – Memorial Day through Labor Day and the busy fall capped by Ciderfest Columbus Day weekend – this year Oct. 9-10.
“We have a lot of Chicago tourists” – Wicks’ newstand carries the Tribune and Sun-Times – who have homes here and they still come. That seems to be our customer: ‘I came here for a field trip in first grade.’ Generation after generation. Resort homes stay in the families, and they’re very appreciative of the great produce we have.”
That produce and the scenic locale which grows it tends to be taken for granted by residents.
“Even my drive through Dewey Lake to school every day is pretty,” said Kelli, whose family lives on Garrett Road “around the corner” from the business.
“People drive hours just to come here and drive our countryside, which we take for granted a lot.”
“Fall is our busiest time. People are still buying produce. I think it’s great that we’re so spread out because maybe when the gift shop’s down, the restaurant’s up. People still want their treats. The bakery’s strong and has grown every year. Last year we started a weekend breakfast buffet from 8 to 2, which was done well for us. We try to figure out what people are willing to spend their money on this year and try to provide it in the best way.”
Wicks’ opened May 28 for 2010.
Sometime in July or August the Caseys plan an anniversary observance “similar to Ciderfest, but different,” Kelli said.
Ciderfest “is like throwing a party and hoping everybody shows up,” Kelli said.
“Rain or shine, 40 degrees or 80, they do, thank God.”
Caseys lost their power for four hours Saturday night, though in their neighborhood “it didn’t seem that bad. I didn’t realize it was so bad everywhere until the next morning when I turned on the news” about tornadoes.
Wicks’ 600 fans following on Facebook will likely be first to know the anniversary details.
Ciderfest offers everything from live music to a petting zoo.
“You’ve got to change it up all the time,” Casey said, because “you get a lot of the same people plus some new ones every year. We’ve tried lots of things. We did the (six-acre corn) maze for four or five years. The first couple of years it was great because we were the only one around, but now that they’re all over, it’s run its course with us and we rented the field.”
Not only did Wicks’ offer pizza delivery for three years, a favorite inspired by reuben sandwiches featured rye crust, corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand island dressing.
Their line of Michigan carry-out wines not only includes Tabor Hill and St. Julian, but some from the Traverse City area.
Wicks’ is open every day but Monday – Tuesday-Thursday, 8-5; Friday-Saturday, 8-6; and Sunday, 8-5, including July 4 and 5.