October 28, 2021

Bring on cider, doughnuts

Hollenbeck’s opens its doors for a new season

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

People wait in line to check out at Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill on opening day. Last year, customers ordered online and waited in the drive-through for pick-up. This year, Hollenbeck’s is open to the public, but everyone must wear a mask regardless of vaccination status

Homer resident Cindy Bacheller always brought her daughter, Samantha Wyant, to Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill in Virgil for opening weekend. Now, Wyant’s own children wait in line for fresh cider and doughnuts.

“Ever since their mother was little, we’ve come to watch the cider press,” Bacheller said Saturday, the cider mill’s opening day of the season. “We come every year. We love the doughnuts fresh out of the fryer — they’re delicious and you get to watch the cider being made while you wait.”

Her granddaughter Hailey, 12, stood on her tip-toes to get the best view. Pointing to the already squished apples at the base of the vintage press, she said seeing how they press apples to make cider is her favorite part.

Except for last year, when the mill was closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, drivers looped around the building, picking up their orders to go.

“Ordering online last year was just OK, but I like to come in and see what else they’ve got — like jams and jellies and stuff — and decide last-minute if I want to try it,” said Jeremy Byron, of Marathon.

In preparation for the first opening since COVID restrictions were lifted in May, Matt Hollenbeck, the owner, and his wife, Sara, spent weeks cleaning the store and installing safety measures. Now, plastic barriers separate customers from cashiers, and everyone must wear a mask regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

“I’m so excited to have our customers back in the building this season,” said Sara Hollenbeck. “It just wasn’t the same without having folks watch the cider pressing.”

Byron remembers when he was a kid waiting for his first cup of fresh cider each fall — and after waiting two years, he could once again join the spectators.

“I feel like I always came with my parents growing up,” Byron said. “It’s nice to see exactly how it’s done, and it’s a good feeling to know that your juice is coming from right here.”

“One year we bought cider from Walmart while waiting for Hollenbeck’s to open, and it was terrible,” said Marjorie Torres, Byron’s partner. “The good stuff is here and it tastes so much better.”

Torres made a beeline for the selection of McIntosh apples, filling two half-bushel bags.

“Even though they’re not really baking apples, I’ll use them in pies and other things, too,” Torres said.

The couple said they’ll make another trip to the cider mill this season.

“We also have four kids and they all love apples — we all have at least one apple a day,” Torres said. Their next visit may be sooner than they expected.