Billy Schultz smiles while walking the grounds at Schultz Fruitridge Farms beneath a clear blue sky. “This is my office,” he says, motioning toward the barn, farm market and surrounding fruit orchards. As the farm’s operations manager, Schultz has several roles at this open-air workplace — farmer, mechanic and, when the crisp air announces autumn’s arrival, doughnut maker.
Schultz Fruitridge Farm, 60139 County Road 652, in Mattawan, unveiled its Donut Depot a few years ago. In this custom-built cabin-on-wheels, the Schultz family prepares and sells its fresh-made doughnuts and award-winning apple cider.
“We always had customers that would suggest to us, ‘You know what would go great with your fresh cider? It would be so amazing to get a warm doughnut,’” Schultz says.
Selling doughnuts made complete sense to Schultz, his brother, Dan Schultz — also an operations manager at the farm — and their parents and the farm’s owners, Bill and Denise Schultz. The farm market at the 500-acre farm stays busy from May through October, when it has at least 10,000 visitors, Billy Schultz estimates. Still, he says, doughnuts seemed a missing component.
“We talked to a bakery consultant, and she engineered a plan around that. And it (the Donut Depot) was built from the framework up around our doughnut fryer,” he says.
Unlike food trucks, which usually have a utilitarian look about them, the Donut Depot has a more rustic appearance that complements its natural surroundings. It took Greg Brininger, owner of Wolverine Coach Inc., in Mattawan, an entire summer to complete the structure, which is 8 feet wide by 18 feet long. The Depot’s small space required smart design to make sure there was enough room for workers to cool, dress and package doughnuts all at the same time. On weekends, it takes three to four people to run the Depot.
“Everybody has their station,” Schultz explains. “It’s just like a commercial kitchen in many aspects: Do it well and fast.”
The doughnut machine, which Schultz calls “the doughnut robot,” is the largest machine that could be run off the farm’s power grid. It makes about one dozen doughnuts every minute when running at maximum speed.
“We mix our doughnut batter up to how we want, and then we put it in the vat,” Schultz explains. “The vat drops a doughnut in the hot oil every so many seconds, and you can adjust the timing on it.”
From there, the doughnuts float along on a conveyor and are flipped over halfway through. It might sound easy, but Schultz says it takes a lot of human management. The Schultzes put much practice into creating a doughnut with a crispy outside and fluffy inside, he says. The first year it was trial by fire. “A warm doughnut that’s enjoyable is an art form in some ways,” Schultz says.
The family also wanted a flavorful recipe. At a convention, they met a Michigan-based doughnut expert who has spent his life perfecting his family’s doughnut mixes. He provided a handful of recipes for the Schultz family to try. Customer favorites are apple cinnamon and pumpkin spice. The Depot also serves blueberry, cherry and chocolate doughnuts.
For the past 22 years, the farm has been making fresh apple cider. In 2005, the Schultzes entered their cider for the first time into the apple cider contest at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo, in Grand Rapids, where it took second place. There are about 30 to 40 entries each year, and it’s hard to place in the top three, Schultz says.
Schultz Fruitridge Farm sells about 5,000 gallons of cider a year, which takes roughly 60,000 pounds of apples to produce. Coming up with the award-winning fresh apple cider recipe took some experimentation.
“You have an idea of what your apples taste like on the tree,” Schultz says, “and you say, ‘I want to combine them in this fashion.’ We try to have a nice balance of sugar and acid in our cider. It makes it easy to drink, and it’s not too sweet.”
The Schultz Donut Depot and the family’s farm market have complemented each other well. In the fall, the market features 20 varieties of apples, plus pumpkins, winter squash, pears, jams, jellies and caramel apples. Visitors also can pick their own apples, and on weekends the farm offers wagon rides.
A third-generation farmer, Schultz takes great pride in continuing the family tradition. He credits the 61-year-old farm’s longevity to diversification and notes that not every farmer makes doughnuts and cider. “I believe we’ve attracted more people because of the doughnuts,” Schultz says.
Perhaps the only drawback to his job is that acquaintances can always tell his previous whereabouts. Schultz laughs as he recalls their usual comment: “Your hair smells like doughnuts!”