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Shady Maple --- A Family Food Story

There are many good stories about how family businesses got started In Lancaster County, and then there are GREAT stories. When a little stand where fruits and vegetables were sold eventually becomes one of the areas's largest supermarkets and biggest smorgasbord, you just know there must be a fascinating tale that needs to be told. It is a story of hard work, constant improvement, customer service, and faith. This is the story behind Shady Maple...

Once upon a time (in 1962, to be exact), Mr. & Mrs. Henry Z. Martin started selling produce at a small roadside stand located in front of their home. After daughter Miriam married Marvin Weaver, the young couple eventually decided to take over the parents' business as their occupation. They were 23 years old. Their first improvement was a 65-square-foot block building, opened in July of 1970, where they continued selling produce. They soon installed a grocery department and affiliated themselves with IGA. Overhead garage doors were used to help keep the "farm market" look to the stand. There was a large porch for the sale of bulk produce. As Chapter One of our story ends, the Weavers have a few employees, two cash registers, and good business for their first year as owners of their own business.

Chapter Two. The next year brought expansion, the removal of those garage doors, and the installation of air-conditioning. In 1972, a stock room was added and they had 25 people on the payroll. The chapters of our story now fly by as each year brings more expansions and additions. By 1976, their store covered 45,000 square feet, with ten cash registers, 130 employees, an in-store bakery and large warehouse.

As our story continues to expand, so does Shady Maple. The spring of 1982 brought an expansion program that resulted in a store of 70,000 square feet with a cafeteria and 240 employees. As the years followed, along came a computerized smokehouse for their meats, as well as Deli, Soup, and Salad departments with everything made "from scratch" from "Grandma's recipes." The operation on Route 23, just east of New Holland, was now attracting not only locals, but also visitors from outside the area. And now a dramatic new chapter in the Shady Maple tale is about to unfold...

Marvin had been keeping his grocery store stocked by going to the Philadelphia market each week and bringing back produce by the trailer load. Marvin had worked for a while in a hospital cafeteria, and he decided that a smorgasbord-style restaurant would be a natural tie-in with the grocery store business. And since the store was purchasing meats and produce in volume, as well as producing its own breads and pastries, it seemed like a perfect match.

In the fall of 1984, construction began on the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. When it opened in July, 1985, the customers responded enthusiastically to the "all-you-can-eat-for-one-price" idea. The Weavers knew they had the right formula when their 300-seat restaurant soon had lines of people who waited one or two hours to get in.

By 1989, they had enlarged all of their facilities, and the Smorgasbord grew to 500 seats and 180 employees. "Word-of-mouth" advertising brought in more people to shop and eat, and the grocery store was now 110,000 square feet, with a waterfall in the foyer, and a bake shop that alone employed 60 people. Today the market employs well over 350 employees, and is one of the most popular supermarkets in the area. But our story continues...

The original expanded Smorgasbord was still not big enough, as evidenced by the lines that continued to snake through the lobby. In September, 2000, a spectacular brand new Smorgasbord building opened its doors, a stone's throw away from the old one. Visitors to the area would see this huge building, and curiosity drove them to the door. The wonderful, extensive selection of food brought them inside, and the experience kept them coming back for more.

The new $10 million Smorgasbord can now seat 1,200 people on the main floor, and has a large gift shop and fast food restaurant on the lower level. When you enter, you may be surprised at the grand look of the lobby. This is all-you-can-eat dining in style. And the selection of foods available is staggering. "Stations" of different kinds of foods are in a long row about the length of a football field. Shady Maple sometimes serves over 7,000 people a day. As for the lines? Well, there may still be some, especially on Saturday night, when there are crab cakes, Cajun catfish, and salmon.

You see, each day at Shady Maple is different, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner smorgasbords with featured items. Monday is Steak Night and Tuesday is Seafood Night. Wednesday means Prime Rib Night (around 100 rib loins from about 50 steers), and Thursday features marinated chicken breast. Friday means fried shrimp, catfish, and salmon, which brings us back to Saturday. But those are only the special featured items, and you'll still have all the other smorgasbord favorites. There are around 50 items on the salad bar alone, plus many, many meats and vegetables... and we won't even get started on the extensive dessert bar. Finally, you’ll enjoy the popular “cook-to-order” Grill Station.

The most recent changes to the operation include the opening of a 1,000-seat banquet and conference center in January, 2005, and a new off-site catering business offering hot or cold buffets in May, 2006. As they like to say when it comes to catering, no group is too large or too small.

Ultimately, the Weavers believe that their formula for success is a mix of the friendliness and service of their management team and employees, the loyal patronage of customers near and far, and the Lord's guidance in what has been accomplished over the years. Their three married sons and families are involved in the business as well, but I am sure the Weavers see their family as much bigger. Their "extended family" surely includes the many people who have helped their business to grow and flourish over the years, proving Marvin's motto of "Give the customer quality food and service and you will have a customer for life." Even to this day, you might see Marvin flipping eggs on Saturdays, observing his patrons. Marvin has done well for a man with an eighth grade education, who still walks to work, puts in 50 to 60 hours a week, and honors his faith by closing his business on Sundays. 

Oh, I forgot to mention how Shady Maple got its name! Remember that little roadside stand at the beginning of our story? It was located in front of the house under some large maple trees. But this, dear reader, is certainly not the end of our story. The next chapters are still being written. You can reflect upon all of this as you head up to the serving stations for your fourth...or fifth...or sixth plate of “wonderful good” food from the Shady Maple Smorgasbord. And who knows? Marvin might even be making your omelette!

---- by Brad Igou  6/15/2007   

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