Knaus Berry Farm opened for season yesterday and, although it was a weekday, the line snaked out from the bake shop out toward the road, with hundreds of people waiting for their turn to enter the combination farm stand and bake shop.
For some, a trip to the farm brings recalls good memories. Giovanni Jurado recalls when his family would make the drive from Pembroke Pines for treats. "I was a little kid, and we would drive an hour and a half to get milkshakes. Everyone in my family calls them sticky buns." Jurado says that he was here today purely by coincidence. "I was thinking that Knaus should be opening some time soon, and I called and they said they were opening today, so I drove down."
For Homestead students Victor Troconis, Claudia Viciedo, and Emme Quintanilla, it was all about being present. As Troconis said, "I wanted to be here to spend time with my friends and be part of this one-time experience."
After standing in the sun for almost two hours, Joaquin Pino and his co-worker Kanaima Hernandez found themselves finally at the front of the line. Pino saw that Knaus was opening today and decided to celebrate his birthday by snagging some cinnamon rolls. The wait, he says, is worth it. "The thing is that these are made fresh, with no preservatives. You take one bite and you can tell the difference. You can't beat that."
Although Knaus offers a variety of items ranging from guava jelly to fresh avocados to Key lime pie, the wait was for the farm's cinnamon rolls, often called sticky buns by the people who love them.
Thomas Blocher, co-owner and bakery manager of Knaus Berry Farm, says that yesterday's start of the season brought some small changes. "We did install some new ovens. We went from a convection to a conventional oven system so we can get a better bake on our pies and pecan rolls. With the convection oven, we also spent a tremendous amount of time cleaning it, so we're hoping to avoid that labor."
Blocher does draw the line on some upgrades like credit cards. "We actually looked into it last summer and there are some people who think we should accept them, but cash works well. Every time you take a credit card, that takes money away. We don't want to raise our prices and it's a lot easier to stay with cash."
Much on the farm is unchanged since brothers Ray and Russell started the farm more than a half century ago and Blocher and his family like it just that way. "We're second generation and we're just trying to maintain what was started. I think of us as stewards. We're just doing what we know what to do.
"You know what the ironic thing is? When my father-in-law and his brother started, they just sold strawberries. They were just trying to feed their families, doing what they knew to do. The bakery started from someone liking my mother-in-law's cookies. We're really not a bakery. We're more of a big kitchen with some big ovens."
Of course, the biggest change is the loss of Ray Knaus, who passed away last summer. His brother and co-founder, Russell, died several years earlier. Blocher says that, although they miss the man, he hadn't really run the business for the past five years or so, although he would still come to the farm most every day. "He would be sleeping in the corner. He would come here just to get out of the house. He liked to work, but in recent years, he became dependent on others. We're confident that he knew his savior and in a lot of ways we're happy. Not that he's gone, but that he's in a better place."
Ray's memory is honored in a small, but touching tribute. Daily specials are written on black disks in the bakery, a nod to when the bakery's cofounder would write menu items on bucket lids he would find on the farm.
Knaus has also expanded to offer its own coffee, Bald Baker's Blend. The coffee is available in whole beans (which can be ground to order), and can be found in the coffee milkshakes sold. "These are the best coffee milkshakes you'll find anywhere", Blocher says, while pointing out that he, of course, is the bald baker the brand is referring to.
Being a farm, Knaus also sells a variety of fruits and vegetables with everything grown on premises, with the exception of sweet corn. Growing season is still a few weeks away, but start to look for lettuce and zucchini next week, with tomatoes to follow soon after. Strawberries will pop up in winter.
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Still, with all the jams and coffee and fresh produce, the bakery is what people come for. The scent of warm bread and rolls is intoxicating, even to Knaus' co-owner. "I grew up in Indiana and we were poor. When someone was sick or to thank a neighbor, my grandmother would bake them something. There are several days a week, I'll be in the bakery and smell my grandmother's kitchen."
That blend of nostalgia for the past along with some delicious cinnamon rolls could be the very reason why hundreds of people show up daily to wait in the hot Florida sun. Blocher, however, won't speculate on why Knaus Berry Farm is so loved in the community. "They're here, and were glad they're here, and we appreciate it. It just amazes me. The saying goes, 'There's no place like this place, so this must be the place.'"