By Sheryl Oswalt
Roll back to 1964 and you would have found Lyndon B. Johnson running against Senator Barry Goldwater for President and a busy ice cream parlor in Vicksburg. Fast forward and we’re in the midst of another exciting election season and there’s still a busy ice cream parlor in Vicksburg. On some nights, it’s so busy there’s a line up on the street, and for good reason: Paula Hochstetler and her daughters, Angela Palomaki and Rita Sertic, have made Apple Knockers a hopping place in town.
Seven years ago, Angela and Rita were looking for work that would allow them to avoid putting their children in day care. The community was looking for ice cream and the home of the original Tasty Freeze was available. With experience in food service but not ice cream, the ladies struck a deal with the owners and set out to recreate the atmosphere of the old-fashioned ice cream parlor.
Imagine their surprise when removal of the carpet in the building revealed the incredible terrazzo floors fitting the look they were going for!
Why Apple Knockers, I asked. The short answer hangs on the wall. What it doesn’t say is that an apple knocker is also the coined name used for those from the Lower Peninsula bringing apples and produce over the Bridge, first for food and later for baiting deer. Angela’s husband Tim is their U.P. connection. Growing up in Marquette, his family originated the famous Apple Knockers pasties.
Pasties are just one of the items on their limited but complimentary-to-ice cream food menu. Whether it’s their pecan-bread pudding, corn bread casserole, chicken salad or their unique (and yummy) coleslaw, each item comes with special family memories. Their homemade pies were first made by Fannie Mae Hochstetler, Paula’s mother-in-law, who made pies for the Essenhaus in Indiana. Paula did much of the cooking in the early days until her brother Mike Keith made the move from Oregon to become their chief cook and pie maker.
They serve Plainwell and Ashby’s ice creams, both made in Michigan. They offer over 60 rotating flavors. My personal favorite has been the key lime pie, now followed by coconut. While interviewing, I made sure to put in my plug for our family’s favorite “Tiger Tiger” ice cream, which we have only found in Canada.
They have been blessed with great young people from the area for help. She credits the parents and the school system for raising fine young people that are very important to the success of their business. Applicants must first be good students as school should be their number one priority. They must be at least 16 years old and while working there they will learn everything necessary in food service. With Paula and her daughters as teachers, I am sure they learn many other valuable life lessons as they are obviously very caring people. I think Paula hit the nail on the head when she said that in order to be successful in food service you first have to have the heart of a servant.
Not only do the ladies work well together, Paula’s husband Bill and their sons-in-law, Tim and Nick, work together at Kepco, Inc.; an electro-polishing facility owned and operated by the Hochstetlers here in Vicksburg. Angela and Rita have been able to rotate work shifts and raise their children as they had hoped and fortunately they found working together very enjoyable. It won’t be long and they will be adding another generation to the work force. Paula also indicated that they are looking at yet another family business opportunity in the Vicksburg area, so stay tuned for more on that!
You will find Apple Knockers open from March to about November 1st. While waiting for my interview with Paula, I overheard an older couple sharing with a friend that they had gotten a cocktail at the golf course, had supper at Yogi’s and were now there for some dessert. Spreading the wealth, you might say! I have to say that the folks in Vicksburg have a dedication to keeping it local that you just don’t find everywhere; and I’m happy to say it’s really rubbing off on me!