The Shady Maple Smorgasbord: A behind-the-scenes visit

Reporter Karin Mallett, photographer Patrick Manwiller and I traveled to the Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl Twp., Lancaster Co., on Jan. 15 for a two-part "One Tank Trip" series on the popular eating establishment.

The first segment -- One Tank Trip: Shady Maple Smorgasbord -- touched on the family-owned company's history and featured an interview with its president, Elwood Martin.

The second segment, airing at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 22, will take you behind-the-scenes with a tour of the smorgasbord's large kitchen and an interview with Sumer Smith, the quality control manager.

What follows is a behind-the-scenes account of our visit, which included a tour of the kitchen and, of course, lunch; a slideshow of pictures; and some interesting facts and figures about the family-owned business.

It's 8:17 a.m., and Karin, her photographer Patrick, and I are on the road for a 'One Tank Trip" to the famous Shady Maple Smorgasbord in Lancaster County. Of course, we won't be the first ones there. Shady Maple has been serving its hungry customers since 5 a.m.

8:50 a.m.: We're here! It was a little slow through the fog in spots along the way, but our trip from downtown Reading to Shady Maple, which is located just off Route 23 in East Earl Township, took just 33 minutes.

8:58 a.m.: Guests who come to eat at Shady Maple see only the area where all the food is served and one of the large dining rooms. We'll be taking you behind the scenes into the massive kitchen where the food is prepared not only for the smorgasbord but for the banquet and meeting rooms, as well.

9:06 a.m.: We're in the serving area as Kathy Sandt, the marketing director, is passing along some impressive statistics about Shady Maple, which was started as a roadside produce stand before expanding to a what is now a large farm market. The company, owned by Marvin and Miriam Weaver, also includes an RV center, bakery and banquet and catering services.

The smorgasbord is certainly a big part of the business, serving a whopping 1,391,699 meals to guests (not including children under 3) in 2013. It's not quite that busy yet today. The ice and fog, we're told, kept business down a bit this morning.

9:12 a.m.: We just left the serving area and our shooting schedule has been delayed a bit. Can we blame it on scrapple steam? Patrick's camera lens has fogged up a bit, so we have to wait until it clears.

9:22 a.m.: The fog has cleared, and we're now sitting down at a table to talk with Shady Maple's president, Elwood Martin, in a dining area that can serve 1,900 people at one time. Elwood became the company's president in 2006, but he began his Shady Maple career by picking potatoes in the farm fields when he was 13.

9:27 a.m.: "It's the biggest smorgasbord you've ever seen," Elwood says. "Now I'm looking for someone to challenge me on that. Maybe it's not, but we can't find one bigger."

9:43 a.m.: We're in the massive kitchen talking with Sumer Smith, the smorgasbord's quality control manager. She's been with Shady Maple for seven years. Up until last summer, she served as the manager of desserts. It had to be a hard title to give up because who wouldn't want that on their business card? The tradeoff is now she gets to try a little bit of everything. 'I take just little spoonfuls," she says.

9:50 a.m.: Sumer is now taking us on a tour of the kitchen, showing us the convection ovens that can bake 500 potatoes each hour and the enourmous pots that are used to prepare all the homemade soups.

9:57 a.m.: Lunch at Shady Maple on Wednesdays includes the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch potpie and pig stomach. We're watching the potpie being prepared in a large pot, being stirred with what appears to be a kitchen-grade boat oar.

10:30 a.m.: We're now back in the serving area, where the switch from breakfast to lunch is underway. Out go the pancakes and scrambled eggs and in come the red beat eggs and broasted chicken.

10:59 a.m.: Time for lunch. There's so much to choose from, including a fresh salad bar, sliced turkey and mashed potatoes, roast beef and made-to-order cheeseburgers.

11:32 a.m.: Dessert! Can't go wrong with shoo-fly pie and hot apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream. Karin chose carrot cake. Patrick went with an ice cream-topped apple dumpling.

11:50 a.m.: Before we leave, Kathy takes us out to the lobby to show us a large cuckoo clock that has a Berks County connection. The clock was made by the Schneider Clock Company in Freiburg, Germany, in 1974 and bought by a Harrisburg man for $10,600, plus freight. It ended up at the Blue Marsh ski area near Bernville, Berks Co., in 1986 and remained there until 2005, when it was relocated to the Magic Mountain ski lodge in Vermont. In 2007, the large clock made its way back to Bernville, where it remained until Marvin Weaver, Shady Maple's owner, bought it at an auction in 2013.

12:01 p.m.: Stuffed and on our way back to work. Well, we actually never stopped working, so maybe I should just say we're heading back to the newsroom.

Did you know?

  • The Shady Maple name originates from the large maple trees under which the original roadside produce stand was located.
  • Shady Maple employs 800 part- and full-time employees.
  • Shady Maple offers a free meal on your birthday? The smorgasbord served 92,750 free birthday meals in 2013.
  • The smorgasbord's dining area can serve 1,900 customers at one time, 1,600 more than the original building.
  • Two people are assigned to keep up with the demand for bacon during breakfast on Saturdays.
  • The average customer uses seven plates per visit. Twenty-six people are assigned to dish-washing duties during dinner Saturday nights.
  • The Saturday before Mother's Day 2013 is, so far, the busiest in Shady Maple's history, with a record 11,500 meals being served.
  • Shady Maple makes one million doughnuts each year.

If you go:

Shady Maple Smorgasbord
129 Toddy Drive
East Earl, Pa. 17519

Breakfast: Monday - Saturday -- 5 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Lunch: Monday - Friday -- 10:45 a.m. - 3:15 p.m.  |  Saturday -- 11 a.m. - 3:15 p.m.
Dinner: Monday - Friday -- 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.  |  Saturday -- 3:16 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day

Images: Behind-the-scenes at the Shady Maple Smorgasbord

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