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Selling Like Hotcakes (Literally)

Maple Tree Inn Delights Customers from All Over the World



By Tim Bigham



maple_inn.jpgANGELICA, NY -- It is a raw irony that difficulties in our early years can stretch us and prepare us the most to face hard things as we age.  So it was with Ron Cartwright who lost both parents as a six year old and quit school at the age of 12.  Ron was raised by his grandparents who continued the art of making maple syrup started by his great-great grandfather in the mid 1800s. 

As Ron was growing up he learned to be a premier sugarmaker and when he started his own family he infused maple into the family’s dairy operation.  Ron never let the grass grow under his feet.  His youngest son, Lavergne, who grew up working the family dairy side-by-side with his dad was always impressed with Ron’s work ethic noting his dad’s self-driven nature. 

It was no surprise to family that Ron would come up with the idea of building a pancake house on the farm.


Bringing Customers to the Farm

The Maple Tree Inn was really born out of a way to better utilize time.  Youngest daughter Rhonda who heads up the kitchen and dining room described it this way, “My dad thought that instead of running  product to customers through a wide-ranging area, he could get them to come to the farm instead, then he could sell product to them right here.” 

A new sugar shack was built in 1963 into a side hill near the road with a ground-level entrance and a basement evaporating room.  A counter and two booths up stairs, which are still used today, constituted the new mechanism by which Ron and wife Virginia would peddle their maple products.  Virginia was the original pancake maker.  The griddle she used, along with other original kitchen utensils grace a segment of the lobby which adds to today’s ambiance in the Maple Tree Inn.


A Global Sensation

This new concept was met with much derision by neighbors who never believed that anyone would come to the middle of nowhere to eattim-maple-story.jpg pancakes and buy maple products.  Today, after four gradual additions were made, the Cartwright family is having the last laugh.  The restaurant, which originally seated 15 now seats 200.


While open, it is constantly busy, not just on weekends and holidays. Customers come from all over the world.  The most memorable event was a live broadcast of the restaurant to Japan via satellite.  Rhonda got the biggest kick out of making pancakes for actor Kirk Cameron.


Keeping the Tradition Alive

Will, son of one of Lavergne and Rhonda’s four older siblings, and part of the third generation to participate in the business, is proud to be today’s primary sugar-maker.  This is his eleventh year making syrup.  Will cut his teeth gathering sap and bringing in wood and keeping a keen eye as his grandfather Ron made syrup.  Today his wife and daughter waitress upstairs and his son gathers sap.  Will introduced the family’s line of bourbon infused maple syrup using distillery barrels. 

“We made 300 bottles as a pilot run and it sold out in three weeks,”  Will says of the introduction.  They now make approximately 1000 bottles to sell in their store.  They also sell cream, sugar cakes and other maple products.  Lavergne is the candy maker.  “Before we open I need to have 1000 pounds of maple cream made, because after that there’s no time to do it”, he says.


The Power of Relationships

In case you haven’t gotten the sense thus far, this is very much a family operation.  And more than that, this business is about relationships that extend beyond blood relations.  Here the customers become part of the family too.  As Rhonda told me, “Sometimes when the work becomes overwhelming and I want to quit, a customer tells me about how they brought a loved one here to carry on a family tradition (of returning to the pancake house) and it encourages me to keep going.” 

She adds “Our number one focus is the customer.  How grateful we are that people return.”  And the non-family employees are ex-officio members of the family too.  Rhonda credits the employees with enriching her life this way, “We have met a tremendous amount of people over the years and are grateful for what we’ve learned from them.”

 The biggest blow to the restaurant was the loss of founder Ron Cartwright in 2004.  Ron’s wife, and current owner, Virginia, still pops in usually a few times each week.  At 92 she takes care to avoid seasons when sickness is prevalent.  Of her mom’s dedication to the restaurant, especially in the early years, Rhonda says, “I don’t know how my mother did it raising six kids.” 

Besides Ron’s passing, COVID was definitely a huge hurdle to get past.  “We got shut down after four weeks”, Rhonda laments.  When they did reopen it was to 50% of their seating capacity.  The amount of bookkeeping necessary to keep up with government regulations has changed tremendously over the years and is nearly insurmountable too,” she said.

Climate change has also had an impact.  Rhonda reflects on the main change this way, “We used to say that we opened on Valentine’s Day, but because of the weather change we had to move it back.”  What keeps Rhonda up at night?  “Scheduling and ordering.  Not once have I dreamt about making pancakes,” she says.

The future could include more expansion, but the greater focus is on improving the customer’s experience wherever possible.  “We don’t take this business for granted,” Rhonda added.  For now, Lavergne, Rhonda, Will, and the rest will keep plugging away to give those who travel to this out-of-the-way oasis for their first or umpteenth visit an experience worth the trip.


Caption 1: The Cartwright family’s popular restaurant and sugar shack was rebuilt in 1963 after the first building was destroyed in a fire. 

Caption 2: Virginia Cartwright, left, and her daughter Rhonda Cartwright Amidon currently run Maple Tree Inn with Virginia’s son, Lavergne, and grandson, Will.