January 18, 2022

Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill presses on

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Bruce Hollenbeck, left, and his nephew Matt Hollenbeck make cherry pies at Hollenbeck's Cider Mill in Virgil Tuesday morning as they fill Christmas orders.

VIRGIL — At the heart of Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill sits a vintage apple press from the 1800s — still in use today.

When the mill opens in the fall, kids and customers will line the chain, which blocks public entrance to the press, to see it in action.

Matt Hollenbeck remembers being a kid, standing by that chain, watching his cousin Bruce Hollenbeck run the press and the business. Like many of the other kids who watched with him, he said he remembers wanting to be like Bruce.
Now he has that chance. Bruce Hollenbeck has sold it to him.

The mill opened in 1933, and in 1972 Bruce Hollenbeck bought it from his mother. He announced the latest change in ownership in an advertisement letter to the Cortland Standard late last week.

“I have had the pleasure of meeting and serving several thousand people,” Bruce Hollenbeck wrote. “I can’t begin to tell you what a joy it has been to be in this business and to meet and get to know every one of you.”

The sale was completed Nov. 9, but don’t feel bad if you did not notice the change — Matt Hollenbeck said he takes that as a huge compliment. He said he and Bruce Hollenbeck purposely kept the change in ownership quiet so customers could realize nothing really changed.

Matt Hollenbeck attributes the business’ long success to its loyal following. He considers the mill to be like a community-owned business. Customers have been vocal about what they would like to see stay at the mill.

They’re not telling him what he should do, he said, but more so how important the business and specifics aspects of it are to the community.

“I would be foolish not to listen,” he said. “This much investment from customers is incredibly rare.”

He had worked at the mill for about five years before taking ownership. Before then, he was a field geologist for an oil company, but he was not happy. To advance in the field he needed to get his graduate degree, which he was going to go for, but during the process realized advancing in his career meant having an office job. He didn’t want that.

Within that time he began working at the mill, and after a variety of part-time jobs realized the mill was where he wanted to be. He said working there brought a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Getting to work with his hands and meeting the customers were a couple of reasons why he enjoys working there.

Plus he loves the products.

“There was never a time I ate other pies or drank other ciders,” Matt Hollenbeck said about always getting products from his cousin’s business.

As the owner, he said the mill’s traditions will remain. But he does have a vision of expanding the business.
While most of the products sold at the mill come from local vendors, he will work with more local vendors to turn more of the mill’s products local.

He said he would also like to sell more food options, other than desserts. With the mills’ bakery a big part of the business, he could see it being used more, such as making varieties of breads.

The plan is to still have the business open only full-time during the fall, but Matt Hollenbeck said he may look at doing some things during the summer.

He is not sure what role, if any, Bruce Hollenbeck will take with the business, but said his cousin always liked talking with the customers and telling stories, so he wouldn’t be surprised if he continued doing so.

Work is still being done at the facility to get it and the machines ready for another season. When it opens depends on when the apples are ready, but Matt Hollenbeck guessed it could open by Sept. 23. And it will then stay open until about the last week of February.

Goosebumps covered Matt Hollenbck’s arms as he discussed his joy of the business being a part of many people’s Thanksgivings every year.

“It is nice to do things that bring wonder and awe,” Matt Hollenbeck said. “It is an amazing business.”