Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
Black Friday is huge for retailers.
But Wednesday is huge for Das Dutchman Essenhaus’ bakery because it’s helping a lot of people put dessert on their Thanksgiving table.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the restaurant and bakery at 240 U.S. 20, Middlebury, will likely sell more than 3,000 pies.
Essenhaus is easily the largest family restaurant in Elkhart County and probably one of the largest in Indiana. It fed more than 750,000 people in 2012.
In the two days before Thanksgiving, it made and sold 3,000 pies, according to Randi Yoder, restaurant and bakery manager. He’s hoping to sell more this year.
That happens both overnight and well in advance.
Employees have been peeling apples, baking crust and making pudding for a while to get ready for the two big days.
“We are in a sense working ahead,” Yoder said during an interview last week.
One employee put 15 crusts at a time on a shelf inside a paddle oven, where five of the shelves rotate like a paddle wheel. There are four huge ovens in the Essenhaus kitchen.
Another made batches of pudding in giant mixers.
John Fitch shoved apples onto a prong and peeled them — quickly. He can do a bushel of apples — about 100 of them — that way in nine minutes if he’s trying. Others then mince them and turn them into pie filling.
Carol Detweiler, assistant manager, and Ruth Schrock, lead employee in the pie department, are sisters who love their work at Essenhaus.
They bake and smile a lot.
Edna Miller is another employee who for the last 11 years has been doing large-scale baking.
“I still like it,” she said.
Some pies have been pre-made and frozen to be baked. But the baking won’t start until Monday night.
Employees will work through the night Monday and Tuesday to make the pies, which are available from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
The cream pies are made shortly before sale. Employees watch the inventory and respond, because this isn’t an operation that randomly makes some pies, and you take what you can get.
“We know the orders that come in will be roughly half the number of pies we need,” Yoder said.
If they have 1,600 orders at the end of Monday, Nov. 25, the team of 25 employees will band together to make 3,200 pies.
They know that last year 700 pumpkin pies sold and it’ll likely be the best-seller again (followed by pecan, red raspberry cream, peanut butter and chocolate). Essenhaus makes about 30 different types throughout the year and sells whole pies for $11.25 to $14.25, more if they’re sugar-free.
There’s no holiday dread for these bakery veterans. Detweiler, Schrock and others are happy to help.
“It’s just exciting to do what we do and make that many people happy,” Detweiler said. “By Wednesday evening we are tired, but we have lots of satisfied guests.”
There are smaller bakeries. There are home cooks who make better pie. But Essenhaus makes consistently good pie.
“All the stuff’s homemade,” Yoder said. “It’s homemade.”
I corrected him to say it’s from scratch. Home cooks don’t use paddle ovens.
But no other restaurant in Elkhart County makes so many people happy. That happens because of how it thinks about hospitality.
On the busiest day of the year in the bakery, employees keep track of what’s selling and make more as needed.
“We try to have what they want,” Schrock said.
That means filling shells with the pudding or even cracking more eggs for the pumpkin pie (three per pie, six each for a custard pie.) Some of the pies are still made from family recipes that Bob and Sue Miller used in the 1970s before purchasing a small diner and turning it into Essenhaus. The mincemeat, by the way, has roast beef along with the raisins and apples.
Yoder, the Millers’ son-in-law, is one of the family members who make sure the business carries on its tradition of homey food and great service.
People want that comfort food. And people are busy and so they turn to Essenhaus to help, Detweiler said. This is also the third year that Essenhaus will have made Thanksgiving meals with all the fixings for groups of five, 10 or 20 people, Yoder said. But if you want that, you have to order by 5 p.m. Monday and should call 825-9471. Last year, the restaurant sold 127 of those packages and Yoder hopes to sell up to 175 this year.
In addition to the pies, Essenhaus will bake and sell more than 500 dozen dinner rolls this week, Yoder said. The restaurant and bakery will be closed Thursday, but have steady business Friday and Saturday, Nov. 29 and 30, for breakfast and lunch, he said.
And by the time Saturday evening comes, the restaurant will have made and sold around 4,000 pies. That’s a stunning amount of pie.
Whether you’re buying an Essenhaus pie, baking your own or eating your mother’s, have a happy Thanksgiving. We don’t say thank you enough in this culture.
So thank you for reading faithfully. I’m grateful for this community and for Elkhart Truth readers.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.