YODER’S RESTAU­RANT & AMISH VIL­LAGE

Worth the wait, a hol­i­day tra­di­tion, two hours from Fort My­ers

RSWLiving - - CULINARY - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

Some things are just worth the wait. At Yoder’s Restau­rant & Amish Vil­lage in Sara­sota, the en­trance line out­side and into the foyer can really stretch­h­hhh out, es­pe­cially at hol­i­days such as Thanks­giv­ing when the shop’s bak­ers pro­duce some 7,000 yummy pies over the week, or av­er­age 50,000 chicken din­ners sold over a year’s time. The an­tic­i­pa­tion is like wait­ing for a roller­coaster, with­out the queasi­ness. And be­cause the place smells like food heaven, the clock hand dur­ing wait times barely crawls.

Yoder’s is a world trea­sure, its dishes sam­pled for tele­vi­sion by Travel Chan­nel’s Adam Rich­man, writ­ten about in a thou­sand mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, lauded by politi­cians and cham­bers and as­so­ci­a­tions, the pub­lic tak­ing own­er­ship of and pride in the place as if it’s ours. The rea­son­ing for Yoder’s amaz­ing reign atop the food chain is sim­ple: It serves hot, home­cooked meals in an at­mos­phere much as you would imag­ine or re­mem­ber from an­other gen­er­a­tion.

But bring some pa­tience, be­cause the wait can be up to an hour, pa­trons slowly slid­ing for­ward as sated din­ers exit an­other door, look­ing back at us with that pleased nod of the nour­ished. The wait is the ap­pe­tizer at Yoder’s, where many of us share with strangers in­ti­ma­cies that would nor­mally back­fire or in­cite hos­til­ity. It’s one of the great things about Yoder’s, that it helps us re­mem­ber ev­ery­one is equal be­fore the meal.

Yoder’s is a tra­di­tion dat­ing to the mid-1970s, one that to­day in­volves some 15,000 busi­ness trans­ac­tions within the vil­lage

each week in sea­son, says Brian Em­rich, a member of the busi­ness’s third-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily. “It’s amaz­ing to think how many fam­i­lies have gath­ered around a ta­ble with a pie from Yoder’s in the mid­dle of it all over these past 40 years,” he says. “It’s a bless­ing, that’s for sure.”

The ge­n­e­sis be­gan when Levi and Amanda Yoder sold their In­di­ana farm and headed for Sara­sota. She was a house­cleaner, he a car­pen­ter. Cir­cum­stances prompted the cou­ple to in­vest their sav­ings in a small restau­rant on Main Street in 1975. Levi had a heart for peo­ple that cre­ated last­ing con­nec­tions and Amanda’s sec­ond na­ture was good home cook­ing, ac­cord­ing to a fam­ily his­tory of Yoder’s. The com­bi­na­tion of the two had a way of making cus­tomers feel as if they were at “Mom’s dinner ta­ble” and kept bring­ing them back again and again, says Shan­non Em­rich, Yoder’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor.

A sec­ond Yoder’s opened on Bahia Vista Street in 1984. The fam­ily cen­tral­ized on Bahia Vista in 1986, build­ing around it the Amish Vil­lage con­cept that is a huge tourist draw and a point of great pride in Sara­sota. Yoder’s over the years has won nu­mer­ous com­men­da­tions for “Best Amish Restau­rant,” “Best Home­made Dessert” and “Best Value Meal,” among oth­ers. Yoder’s pa­trons have been known to cen­ter a vacation or a spe­cial trip just around the chicken and mashed pota­toes.

Even more as­ton­ish­ing, the restau­rant is al­most de­lib­er­ately home­spun, serv­ing a bas­ket of bread and fresh but­ter to tide hun­gry pa­trons un­til their meals ar­rive, for ex­am­ple. You'd al­most ex­pect plas­ticware. The place is clean and brisk and in­ti­mate. The chicken, in par­tic­u­lar, is juicy and the bat­ter light and tasty. And serv­ings are more than am­ple. You get your money’s worth at Yoder’s, for sure.

Em­rich says a dozen or so bak­ers go to bat­tle be­gin­ning the Sun­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, as­sem­bling in Yoder’s small­ish kitchen to pro­duce a moun­tain of pies in less than a week. Other crews prep for the thou­sands of meals served dur­ing hol­i­day surges. Some 150 work­ers staff the Amish Vil­lage.

The kitchen’s amaz­ing pro­duc­tion—the hard phys­i­cal la­bor and heat—gains fresh mean­ing for the work­ers as pa­trons be­gin lin­ing up well be­fore the doors open. The rush of ex­cite­ment at Yoder’s, she says, “is a tra­di­tion for us, too. Life wouldn’t be the same with­out it.”

Yoder’s pa­trons have been known to cen­ter a vacation or a spe­cial trip just around the chicken and mashed pota­toes.

Dessert is manda­tory in a Yoder's fam­ily- style meal.

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