You have only one chance to make a first impression.
Fly Creek, NY (Vocus) September 16, 2010
Apples may not only fall from the tree but in special cases they even roll in the same direction. This is the case with Brenda Palmer Michaels, owner of the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, Inc. in upstate New York. Brenda, youngest sibling of successful restaurant entrepreneur Chef Charlie Palmer, is the recipient of WISE’s (Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship) annual Ann Michael Distinguished Entrepreneur Award for a High-Growth Business Venture. The award celebrates the success of women-owned businesses that are innovative, provide quality jobs and impact the market, and whose owners contribute personally and professionally to their communities.
The Palmer Family entrepreneurial magic has taken hold and reshaped this once small three-month family mill operation into a must-see attraction on anyone’s Cooperstown itinerary. Now the Mill is open eight months a year from Easter until Christmas and the On-Line Store is open year-round. Employment tops 45 in season and sales steadily grow throughout the diversified business.
Brenda and her husband, Bill, purchased the 1856 water-powered Mill from Bill’s parents in 1999. Since then they have added many innovations and features including gourmet food products, a bakery, family entertainment, and a New York Farm Winery. The design and layout of the Mill have been enhanced thanks to Brenda’s talent (BA, Pratt Institute) for interior architecture. She honed her skills with brother Charlie designing some of his original restaurant endeavors and at Bloomingdale's as a retail designer.
Upon entering the Mill, visitors are greeted by Mill Team Members whose mantra is “we are not just selling products, we’re also selling the experience.” A feature of that experience is the array of more than 40 product samples that customers can taste before making purchases. Aroma of fresh baked pies, breads and cookies, as well as the apples and cider, provide just the right atmosphere for sampling and tasting. Brenda states, “I want each customer not only to have a great time while visiting but also to remember their good experience when they get home and open our Fly Creek apple salsas and wines." The Mill experience is so important to Brenda she now employs a Retail Experience Manager just to ensure maintaining customers’ positive experiences. “I have learned from my brother’s successful enterprises it is the little things that drive success. Each day we must constantly adhere to the Mill's mission,” states Brenda. Her credo is, “You have only one chance to make a first impression.” Brenda also believes it is crucial that the Mill feature only the finest and freshest that New York State has to offer. Fresh apples, breads, pies, fudge and aged extra-sharp cheddar cheese are just a few examples of the Mill’s quality products.
Dedication to innovative growth is upheld in the Mill’s wines and hard ciders, a venture developed by Brenda as a compliment to the diverse product mix. “These winery beverages represent a return to the historic cider-making traditions here at the Mill,” says Bill Michaels, co-owner. The Mill, built in 1856, has a long history of creating a flavorful base beverage for home brewers. Before the days of refrigeration, the Mill produced thousands of gallons of sweet cider that were then turned into the beverage of choice for early New York pioneers. Hard cider and apple wines were safe, shelf-stable beverages that took the place of water, much of which was not potable, plus they were much simpler to make than beer.
Brenda maintains the Mill as a civic leader. She widely supports Cooperstown-area communities in their fundraising activities, even to opening the Mill facilities to service organizations: for example, the Rotary Club annual AppleFest and the Lions Club Duck Race. Annually the Mill partners with Bassett Healthcare Network’s Mobile Mammography Unit for Big Squeeze Weekend, a successful fundraiser and breast cancer awareness event. Working within the industry, Brenda has built relationships with colleagues in the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association, New York Wine and Grape Foundation and New York Apple Association.
So what does sibling food entrepreneur Charlie Palmer think about his sister’s enterprise? “Their cider is the best I have ever tasted and I’m often able to cook with it as well. The Mill is a great place for people to relax and unwind in a casual country atmosphere tasting regional products made close to home,” confirms Charlie. “I’m happy that Brenda and Bill are making a go of it and are raising their family in the peace and beauty of the Cooperstown area.”
With two Palmers in the food business, all New Yorkers, upstate and down, can enjoy the fresh and original creations for which this family is known.
For more information about the Mill or to schedule an interview or request samples, please call Bill Michaels at 607-547-9692 or e-mail bill(at)flycreekcidermill(dot)com.
For more information about Chef/owner Charlie Palmer visit http://www.charliepalmer.com.
For more information on the WISE Ann Michael award visit http://www.wiseconference.com.