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January 31, 2010
Mitch Pritchard • Staff writer •
Simple gift leads Chili Man to New Garlic Business

Bob Emens knew his nearly 30-year career at Delphi Automotive was winding down, and seeing how he was only in his 50s, he needed something to do in his retirement

A gift from a friend — garlic scapes — pointed him in the perfect direction.

"I liked them, but I thought I could improve upon the product," says the Chili resident.

The scape is the hard part near the neck of the garlic plant. It is usually snapped off and left on the ground to go back into the soil. But they've become the centerpiece of Emens' business, Luke's Mill Creek Farm.

Emens, 59, sells pickled garlic scapes and garlic scape pesto to wineries, novelty food shops and at festivals.

"I wanted something to do when I retired as a write-off and to feed my Type A personality," Emens says. "I thought I could improve on the product, but boy, that is easier said than done."

Emens started the business in 2005. He doesn't have his own shop but sells the product out of the basement of his home on Morgan Road. He researched the Mill Creek Farm that is on his property and found out Mill Creek refers to the creek that runs through it. The Luke in the name comes from the owner of the farm in the 1850s.

The first year, Emens just sold plain pickled garlic scapes. He expanded to pickled dill and habanera scapes the second year. In 2007, he developed the pesto.

His products are sold in many area wineries.

"People buy it because it is definitely something different," says Wendy Backus, the tasting room manager at Montezuma Winery and Hidden Marsh Distillery in Seneca Falls. "Anything goes with wine, and I think people find it intriguing. I have had it, and I think it is great ... if you like garlic."

Emens buys 1,000 pounds of garlic scapes from Piedmont Farms in Holley, Orleans County. He does grow some on his property, but not nearly enough to fill what he needs.

Emens, who has never been married and has no children, doesn't have any employees but sometimes gets help for festivals from his nieces and nephews.

He said the business is steady from Thanksgiving through the holidays, then it is pretty dormant all winter. He picks his scapes up in June and starts making shipments the first week in July and is busy all summer.

He usually sits on a few thousand jars all winter, but he makes 130 cases of pickled scapes each year and 100 cases of pesto.

He sells much of his product on the Buffalo and Niagara wine trails, but would love to break into the New York City market.

"Those people have so much more money up there that I would get people buying year-round," he said. "I need a big populace to really get the business going.

"The goal is to grow your business enough so that someone just wants to buy it from you and they do it all. I'd like to let them give me their money."

For now, the product is a niche product that he only tries to sell at garlic and wine festivals so he doesn't have to educate the people on what he is selling.

"It has done well for what I wanted it to do, and it has been fun to have repeat customers come back," he said. "But now I want to grow the business. At one point you either jump into a business, or you jump out."

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Learn more about garlic and garlic scapes here.

 

I have been a member of the Pride of New York Program, from the conception of my business. The program was developed to promote and support the sale of agricultural products grown and food products processed within New York State.
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