EAST EARL TWP., Pa. - Where do you start? It's not hard to fill a plate. It's just hard to decide what to eat first at the Shady Maple Smorgasbord in Lancaster County. Be sure to bring your appetite.
"It's the biggest smorgasbord you've ever seen" said Elwood Martin, president, Shady Maple Companies, who challenges you to find a bigger one. "It's legendary. It's a family tradition. That still doesn't tell the story of how big it is."
It's a tradition that started for Martin when he was just 13, picking potatoes for Shady Maple owners Marvin and Miriam Weaver.
But for the beginning of it all, you have to go back to Miriam's parents, Henry and Edna Martin, in 1963. They sold produce at a roadside stand under the shade of the maple trees in their front yard.
Their daughter. Miriam and son-in-law. Marvin. took over the stand in their early 20s and turned it into a store.
About every two years, Marvin would find something he wanted to add.
"The vision wasn't for massive size. He just kept wanting to offer more," Martin said.
More is what you'll get. The buffet bars are lined up as far as the eye can see, but it's not just about quantity. Marvin's theory is every meal is important.
"The recipes and the quality of the recipes, using good quality ingredients has been a major factor," Martin said.
In 2013, Shady Maple said it served 1,391,699 meals.
Filling the buffets is no easy task since almost everything is made from scratch with a Pennsylvania Dutch touch.
In the second part of our series next Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., we'll go take you into the kitchen for a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to feed thousands of people every day.
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