Any surfer knows that it’s a rush to ride the big wave. At Hidden Hollow Maple Farm in Thurman, New York, the big wave arrived in the form of the booming “eat local” trend.
As they try to crest that wave, the Wallace family is in the midst of a huge expansion that they expect will allow them to grow into a full-time, year-round sugaring business. Three generations of the family have worked the sugar bush. The goal? To produce the finest quality maple syrup.
And with more than 5,600 taps flowing in 2016, they certainly can lay claim to being the largest maple syrup producer in Warren County. “We are installing another 1,200 taps for next year,” Charles Wallace said. “That will put us up around 7,000. My goal is to hit 10,000 to 12,000 taps, including the property we just purchased.”
With a lot of syrup to sell, the family has a marketing plan to move that product. “There is a big move to shop locally and buy locally,” Charles said. “Good restaurants want to join in.”
Their marketing success is simple. It requires meeting a lot of people, handing out samples and following up with potential buyers.
“If you give people samples of good product and give them a good price, it sells,” Charles said.
Much of their growth is simple word of mouth. Charles is not shy about promoting New York product over Canadian or Vermont maple syrup. The family sells their maple syrup and related products at places such as the Friends Lake Inn in Chestertown; at the famous Adirondack Loj in Lake Placid; and the exotic Kuki’o Golf and Beach Club in Hawaii.
Close to home, the tourist center at Lake George, New York, is emerging as a hot market. “Most of the restaurants are buying in large volume containers – usually one gallon pails, sometimes five gallons,” Charles said. In those cases, the restaurants decant the syrup into table-sized dispensers for their customers. Among their buyers are notable restaurants like the Adirondack Brewery, Caffe Vero, Tamarack Inn, The Inn at Erlowest, Lake Crest Inn and the Dunham’s Bay Resort. In a tourist center like Lake George, they sell more candy and items like their popular maple peanuts and peanut brittle.
So how does an operation in Warren County get hooked up with a top-drawer hotel in Hawaii? It’s all about who you know. A niece of theirs is head chef for the Four Seasons and she moved to Hawaii and Kuki’o. The Kuki’o operation includes a high-end restaurant that buys local honey and other items. Fortunately for Hidden Hollow, Hawaii is not a big maple producer. Hidden Hollow sent samples, allowing the folks at Kuki’o to see the quality they produce.
Interestingly, everything Kuki’o buys has to be shipped in glass because of the island’s environmental concerns like waste disposal. So the restaurant purchases single-serving 50-milliliter bottles. “They take a lot of tiny glass bottles,” Charles said. “It is an endeavor to get it there.” Even the bulk shipments are glass. And Kuki’o buys half-liter glass bottles to sell in its farmers market.
Even closer to home, the Wallaces have found different maple consumption patterns. “Overall, our best mover is syrup,” Charles said. They hit many of the Taste of New York events and the New York State Fair and the area maple syrup weekends. “There, we sell a good mix of value-added items,” he said. “And anyone can call and get syrup from the farm.”
Passing the sugaring torch
It all comes back to the origins of Hidden Hollow. James and Martha got the business going and later son Charles and his wife, Michele, took the lead – although mom and dad still are quite active. The future rests in son Rex and his wife, Cassie.
They do it the old-fashioned way, making their syrup with a wood-fired evaporator. Right now, however, the focus is on nailing down larger wholesale accounts and expanding their market footprint into more stores. They are working Long Island and top-end restaurants as far away as Colorado.
There is no doubt at Hidden Hollow that they are going to have to be active in marketing to reach their goal of becoming a year-round maple operation.
“It takes a lot of volume to go full-time,” Charles said. “I got it in my blood. I’d rather go to full-time maple syruping than work off the farm.”
“The industry is different today than it was 40 years ago,” he continued. “Nowadays, you have a chance to make a living at it and build up your investment for the next generation and pass the business along to them.”