MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) — Motorists exiting U.S. 127 in Ithaca might whiz right by a unique hidden gem tucked in behind two other East Center Street businesses just off the expressway.

The Apple Barrel Cider Mill, owned by Chris and Marla Buerge, offers a variety of fresh fruits, homemade bakery treats, and its award-winning cider, among many other items.

Although locals know where it's located it might be a bit more difficult for first time visitors to find the cider mill, located behind Subway and Auto Value on the south side of roadway.

Chris Buerge, a lifelong Ithaca resident, acknowledged the location was somewhat of a disadvantage but more and more travelers have been stopping in.

"People are still finding us," he told the Morning Sun. "Every year our sales have gone up. We get a lot of people off the expressway."

But there are also some advantages.

"We're the first exit where services are offered north of Lake Lansing Road," Buerge noted.

A number of gas stations and fast food restaurants are located nearby.

"We also have 12 acres here and when the time is right we will be able to expand," Buerge said.

He and his wife opened the business in 2010.

"I've been raising apples since 1997 when I planted a small orchard at our home," Buerge explained. "We always thought about putting in a cider mill somewhere. Then we had this property offered to us and the idea just evolved. It's fun but it's been a lot of work."

Their Apple Hill Farm on Alger Road now has about 30 different strains and varieties of apples that are sold at the cider mill.

Of course, fall is the busiest time of year when the mill employs 13 to 14 mostly part-time workers.

Wife Marla, a Middleton native, is at the cider mill most every day but Chris, along with his brother Kim, also own a local contracting business, Buerge Insulation & Windows.

"That keeps me pretty busy," Chris said. "And fall is the busiest time for both."

The couple's son, Corey, makes the cider in an apple press. The entire process can be viewed by patrons through large glass windows.

"It's pretty popular," Buerge said. "We make it on Wednesdays and Saturdays and people enjoy watching."

Corey is a certified cider-maker and his apple cider took second place at the Michigan Cider Contest held at the Devos Center in Grand Rapids.

However, the cider-making took place on a recent Friday due a funeral the family had to attend the following day.

Apple Barrel offers many varieties of apples and other fresh fruits, as well as homemade doughnuts, pies and fudge, mums, hanging baskets, bedding plants, pumpkins and squash,

All of the baked goods are made from scratch daily.

In addition, there's a gift shop that features various types local crafts, honey and other items.

The building's interior has a rustic atmosphere that has been decorated using re-purposed old siding and beams from eight local barns that were being torn down.

The business also sells small prefabricated cabins and sheds that can be purchased on a "rent to own" basis.

"That's been kind of a big thing," Buerge said.

The Apple Barrel Cider Mill is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday year-round.

"There aren't many (cider mills) that operate all year," Buerge said. "But being in town we can do that because we still get local people coming in during the winter."

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Information from: Morning Sun, http://www.themorningsun.com/

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