BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Eckert's Inc., the Belleville-based company known for attracting crowds to pick fruits and vegetables at its farm and to its restaurant, shifted hard over the past two years into the cider business.
First came the addition of a cider mill in August 2020. From that, it launched its own line of hard cider products in 2021, which it sold in an on-site store and restaurant at its Eckert's Farms destination.
From those moves, Chris Eckert, the company's president and owner, saw something else was changing. Eckert's Farms, a place known as a kid-friendly destination, was drawing a noticeable increase in visits from young, childless couples.
"We're seeing a change in our customers a bit," Eckert said. "There's a growing percent of our customer base that are young couples, without kids, who are looking for a little bit of a different experience when they come to the farm."
At noon Friday, Eckert's will open two new cider-focused attractions at its Belleville farm in an attempt to continue capitalizing on the demographic trends.
The addition of the Cider Shed, a 3,500-square-foot indoor bar and dining room, and Mr. E's Cider Donut & Custard Shop, are designed to help Eckert's "naturally evolve" in a way that appeals to new customers.
"It's also to kind of keep Eckert's relevant as consumer habits change," Eckert said.
The new attractions, first announced in January, are connected to a new, covered outdoor pavilion area, with a 400-person capacity. In total, Eckert said the company invested in $5 million in the project.
"We aren't done spending yet," Eckert said. "I think it's going to be somewhere above $5M total, for the whole project."
The Cider Shed will serve as a beer garden and lounge, as well as a space for concerts and private events. Mr. E’s Cider Donut & Custard Shop, formerly the farm's indoor Cooking Classroom, connected to Eckert’s Country Store, will offer new sundaes and sweets, featuring the farm’s produce and baked goods, as well as year-round cider donuts.
Read the full story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.