Blog Post

Center Grove Orchards – Part 2 ALR Report


Part 2 of 3

Report on Center Grove Orchards

Hey Friends,

In case you missed it, I’m reporting ideas, information and observations from the NAFDMA Advanced Learning Retreat. If you’ve never participated, you can learn more about the most recent ALR here.

Back to Center Grove Orchards, which I’ll be reporting on in 3 parts:

  1. Farm Market and indoor spaces
  2. Foodservice bright ideas
  3. Attractions & admissions

Full disclosure: I am not a foodie. I like to eat food and enjoy time out with friends trying new things, but I am not a foodie.

Disclosure 2: I am not a food service person either. I am NOT an expert on food prep, food cost controls, kitchen set-up – not me. I am in awe at some of the bakery operations and food service thinking done by NAFDMA members such as Alan Ard, Jim Stauffer, Scott Odorizzi at Alstede’s, Tammi Packer & Sequists on jams and bakery, but I’m not your guy.

That said if something seems so efficient, interesting or functional that it catches my eye, it’s got to be good. Center Grove caught my attention in food service in two locations.


Coffee Bar

Coffee bar. Location, location, location. The coffee bar is situated at the corner of the most heavily trafficked hallway on the farm. Every entrant passes the coffee bar, every farm market visitor passes, or at least can see the coffee bar, which is housed in a decorative faux silo.

Brilliant. Coffee bar drinks are served from a real espresso machine, by baristas who might now make more lattes than Starbucks on a busy day. (One barista thought they made 3,000+ drinks on a busy day.) The trick is that Starbucks taught all the visitors to desire a fancy coffee and the PAY FOR IT.

Profits overlooked. It would have been easier and faster to simply install some Bunn coffee makers and set-up like your local gas station, charge $2.00 per cup and let them fix it themselves.

By investing in quality equipment, training for the baristas, and even, as it was explained to me, a specific roast bean, CGO unlocked a new market. Think about it: CGO is STEALING thousands of lattes from Starbucks each day they are open! (Don’t worry, Starbucks will be just fine.)

Aw, Shucks! Please allow me to gush, just a little bit. CGO’s Shucks food outlet was my favorite place and it’s going to take me a minute to write it all out. My apologies to those in the building with me as I kept saying, “What?!” because the clever combinations and efficiencies make this food outlet outstanding.

(NOTE: I know that many of you are already on this bandwagon and offer similar items, but just bear with me and see the amazement through the eyes of someone who is not as far along in food service:-)

Apple nachos. Made with a 16-slicer, the thin apple slices are topped with a custom pre-mix of chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, coconut, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. Uh, yes, please! Under a minute to assemble with very low-cost inputs, retail? $4.95 each. My Dad would love to sell apples for $4.95 each!

This is my buddy Rochelle looking like a million bucks whilst I am shocked at the margin in apple nachos.

Fryer efficiencies. In the back corner, freshly washed potatoes are turned into fresh-cut fries. Steve, CGO owner, was not sure people got the connection that they grow the potatoes and cut them fresh, and by the signage – I’m not sure they are pushing that fact hard enough. They have very nice pictures of old tractors in the apple orchards picking the apples, but none for potatoes. Maybe CGO could play that up on the line queue to Shucks for next season.

I digress, the fries are cut fresh, sprinkled with a custom blend of salt and spices to “make them our own.” In the next fryer, run by the same person, hand-breaded chicken strips get fried up to order but that’s just the beginning.

Sure, kids and adults order chicken strips all day long. The chicken strips also get used in the next magical item, the gourmet grilled cheese.

Gourmet grilled cheese station is a simple, small sandwich prep top refrigerator from which one person can make:

  • a kid’s grilled cheese (whitebread and 2 slides of American cheese $5.95)
  • an Ooey Gooey (upgraded sourdough bread with three kinds of cheese $7.95)
  • Chicken Bacon Ranch (Sourdough bread, chicken strips, cheese, ranch dressing $10.95)

All made from the same location using the same ingredients and all include fountain drink, small fries, and homemade applesauce – NO choice, you have to get a combo. For speed, between the oven and the cashiers is a food warmer, so the sandwich makers can get ahead on sandwiches, chicken finger combos, and fries can be waiting for quick service


I know this is long, but just indulge me one more item – The Apple Cider Shake-Up. At $12.95, you’d think this is a no-go on sales, but these massive ridiculous shakes are at Disney, Universal, Vala’s and CGO, so someone is buying them.

The Apple Cider Shake-Up is approximately 16oz of fun in a plastic mug, rimmed with caramel and graham cracker bits, half cider slushie, half soft serve, whipped cream, sprinkles plus a whole caramel apple stuck on the side.

Think of the efficiencies. Soft serve is available for sale, as is apple cider slush. Whipped cream and caramel are used in the apple nachos, and the farm market makes caramel apples every day.

The only thing required for this ridiculous beverage is a plastic mug, the belief that someone will buy it and the guts to price it at $12.95!!!

I can’t make all this happen at my place, but I did come away with the Gourmet Grilled Cheese, Chicken Strip and Fries combo with this cool oven call the Ovenation. I think that’s a good fit for our winery events and weekends when we need something other than hot dogs to please the winery crowd.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the attractions and admissions at CGO, and after that, we’ll take you on a tour of Vala’s!

Have a great week,


PS I would LOVE it if you would share your thoughts and pictures with me from the trip or ask clarifying questions if you missed it.

Maize Quest designs corn mazes, and provides much more to corn maze clients.

With one package, you get a high quality corn maze from Designer Dave Phillips [Who’s Dave? ]

And that’s just the beginning. Our package program creates the maze, GPS cuts it, creates the games and worksheets for guests to use inside the maze – we’ll even help you plan your site, pricing, marketing and additional attractions.

If you like reading these blogs, then you’ll likely enjoy working with us.

CLICK To Learn More About Using Maize Quest for your corn maze this year.

Related Posts