HONEY BROOK - In case you may have missed it, there has been a bit of construction ongoing on the north side of Route 322 one mile west of Honey Brook Borough. The site is well on its way to becoming the home of September Farm Cheese’s Country Store and Sandwich Shop. Projected to open early in the summer of 2013, the store will be the Honey Brook cheesemaker’s new storefront, and a lot more.
The family-owned cheesemaking business, which has been at its current location at 460 Mill Road in Honey Brook for six years, is making the location change with sustainability of the award-winning business in mind.
“We can only go so far with what we have here (currently at the farm’s Cheese Shop) so we decided to open a new store,” said owner Dave Rotelle (who, along with wife Roberta, enjoys the distinction of being named 2012 Chester County Farmer of the Year). “We at first considered opening the new store in East Earl, but we later decided to stay in Honey Brook. It is a real good stretch of road that sees a lot of traffic... …We had a traffic study done, and it showed that there are more than a thousand cars that pass through each day.”
Rotelle said that the visibility of the new location will be good for the cheesemaking business and also will let September Farm promote agricultural tourism.
“Our new store will compliment and support agriculture in the area. By educating people about how our cheese is made we let them know that we take care of our cows and have control over the agricultural process. Plus it is neat for the public to know the history of the food they eat.”
September Farm wholesale sales currently make up 35 percent of the company’s business, with their cheeses being sold in over 80 different stores. Rotelle added that while September Farm and other local good are to be featured in the retail shop, some specialty items will be brought in from outside of the area - chiefly imported cheeses.
“We will continue to expand our selection of cheese by importing the types we cannot make here,” he stated.
Building the Country Store and Sandwich Shop was not a decision that easily made. The process was expensive, requiring not only the purchase of land and the cost of a new facility, but also the need for new processing equipment. In developing his business plan, Rotelle sought the opinions of a small number of other local business owners who agreed to offer their counsel in the endeavor.
“It was nice to have someone looking over our shoulder… …it was like having a board of advisors to help with the business plan,” he said.
Once the new location is open for business the family farm on Mill Road will be closed to the public, although some business activities will still be taking place there (the September Farm cows will still call Mill Road home, for example).
The new property consists of three lots totaling 19 acres. The Country Store and Sandwich Shop will be built on one of the lots and Rotelle said that the other two lots will remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future.
The new building, which will be approximately two-and-a-half times the size of September Farm’s current store and processing facilities, is being constructed by Hoover Building Specialists of Honey Brook. The Rotelles broke ground at the new site in September of 2012, the excavation went on from October to November, and the footers for the building were poured in November.
As with the current Cheese Shop, visitors to the new location will have an observation area where they can watch the September Farm team work their cheesemaking magic.
“We will have approximately 2,600-2,700 square feet of retail space, 1,000 square feet for the sandwich shop, and over 1000 square feet for processing, cutting and packaging our cheeses,” said Rotelle, who estimates that the processing capabilities at the new Country Store will allow for September Farm to double its cheese output.
Rotelle said that the addition of the Sandwich Shop to the retail and production portions of the business is akin to having a stool with a few legs rather than with just one – providing stable overall support to the new venture.
“I think that with the addition of the Sandwich Shop we will get more traffic, which will mean more retail business. We are hoping to do a lot of takeout because of the volume of traffic and the amount of space we will have for parking.”
The sandwich shop will offer eat-in and takeout options. On the menu will be toasted sandwiches, deli sandwiches, fried cheese curds, soups, and salads.
“We will have good fresh bread and deli meats to pair with our cheeses. In the past we (did not have a license to sell prepared food) so we would always give away free samples of things like toasted cheese sandwiches. Now we will have the (necessary licenses) to be able sell these to our customers,” Rotelle said.
On the sweeter side of things there will be cheese tarts, coffee beverages, and hand-dipped ice cream.
“Our ice cream comes from Windy Knoll Farm Market and Creamery in Chambersburg (located in Pennsylvania south of Carlisle). Their artisan ice cream is award-winning and very creamy. We have been carrying it in the current shop and selling ice cream in December.”
For the design of the Country Store, the Rotelles gained inspiration from visits to country stores in New England. Those influences led to the inclusion of features in the September Farm design such as a 12 foot wide wrap-around porch and a summer kitchen.
“We wanted to make it look like a farmhouse and feel like a farmhouse,” said Rotelle. “In (New England) there are a lot of country stores and they have a way of creating a very cozy atmosphere. That is what we are going for with the new store. We want to have a place where people don’t just stop in, but want to stay and hang out.”
Those who will be dining in at the Country Store will find indoor seating for two dozen patrons, as well as outdoor seating options on the patio and porch.
“Throughout this process the community has been very supportive of us, and our customers have been very supportive too. We want to thank everyone for supporting us. Honey Brook Township has been excellent to work with as well. This is a great opportunity for September Farm. We feel really fortunate for the success we have had and we look forward to being able to continue to provide the best products we can.”
Follow September Farm online, including the progress of the construction of the Country Store and Sandwich Shop, at www.septemberfarmcheese.com.
Find the Tri County Record on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/TriCountyRecord, on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TriCountyRecord, and search for Berks-Mont News, our six-publication newsgroup, on Google Plus.