YODER’S RESTAURANT & AMISH VILLAGE
Worth the wait, a holiday tradition, two hours from Fort Myers
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.