In 1978, the year the first Machine Shed restaurant (see review) opened in Davenport, Iowa, a full-time house builder and construction worker in Kansas, Tim Schierman, had a bright, rural-themed idea of his own. The previous year, the mountain-music-loving former hippie had left his radio gig at KOPN 89.5 in Columbia, Missouri (“I was playing all the kinds of music you hear on the O Brother Where Art Thou album,” he recalls), and opened a cider mill with his wife, Shelley, and father-in-law, Emmett, in Louisburg, Kansas.
It was a hobby, says Schierman, who learned to make cider using an old press in a 120-year-old barn. But after the first year, Schierman — who had also produced rock concerts in Columbia — wanted to give the infant cider business a much-needed jolt of publicity. So he created the town’s first CiderFest, a one-day event showcasing cider, roasted chicken (prepared by the local Rotary Club) and music by two folk singers, Paul and Win Grace, who performed while their young daughters did clog dances. The rustic little event attracted nearly 3,000 visitors to the cider mill.
Schierman turned his hobby into a career in 1981. “The economy went sour, and interest rates shot up to 16 percent. No one was buying houses so, of course, nobody was building them,” he says. “I had to find a new way of making a living.”
Necessity being the mother of culinary invention, Schierman decided to try his hand at the wholesale cider market, learning to bottle — and pasteurize — the family’s apple brew. It was an immediate hit in local groceries, and two decades later, the Louisburg cider (made from a blend of Jonathan, Red Delicious, Gold Delicious, Fuji, Winesap and Granny Smith apples) is sold in four states and shipped as far away as Chicago and Minnesota. Schierman launched his Lost Trail Root Beer business in 1990, making six flavors of the brew alongside the cider using a 1960s-vintage Coca-Cola filler from an old Victoria, Kansas, bottling plant.
This month, Schierman expects nearly 7,000 people each day during the two weekends of the 25th anniversary CiderFest, Saturday, September 28, and Sunday, September 29, and the following weekend, October 5 and 6. The Louisburg Lion’s Club begins serving pancakes at 8 a.m. each day and barbecue at 11 a.m., while a production team cranks out the mill’s most successful food item — cider doughnuts — from dawn to dusk. Tim and Shelley spend the days icing down and selling apple cider and root beer.
But though the annual CiderFest brings thousands of tourists to the tiny hamlet of Louisburg, there are a finite number of restaurants to visit there, and almost all of the restaurants along the courthouse square in nearby Paola (ten minutes from the Cider Mill) are closed on Sundays.
“That’s strange, isn’t it?” Schierman says. “I’ll have to talk to the Chamber of Commerce about it, I guess.”