PRAIRIE DU CHIEN — As Shihata’s Orchard approaches the half-century mark, second-generation owners David and Linda Shihata have focused on making it even more of a destination by adding a bakery, more specialty food products and opportunities for family fun.
They’re crunchy and delicious out of hand — not to mention crazy nutritious. But fall’s favo…
MINNEAPOLIS — If it weren’t for Peter Gideon, we might still be munching on crabapples, rath…
This undated photo from the 1960s, taken by former Tribune advertising manager Howard Colvin…
The 40-acre rural Prairie du Chien orchard and its Apple House retail store and 3-year-old Bakery Barn opened for the season Aug. 13. They’ll be open until early November.
Shihata’s Orchard offers 12 apple varieties and began the season with Paula Red apples, with Zestar apples becoming available the following week. The orchard’s biggest-selling apples, Honeycrisp, also are available now, as are Gala and early tart McIntosh apples.
The orchard offers U-pick apples, but most customers buy apples that already have been picked, David Shihata said. About 10,000 bushels of apples are harvested at the orchard each year.
The orchard also makes its own pasteurized apple cider. And it has a 7-acre Pumpkin Patch where customers can pick or buy pre-picked pumpkins and gourds, usually from mid-September until Halloween.
Most customers live within 150 miles of Prairie du Chien. Besides Wisconsin residents, David Shihata said, “A lot of people come here from Iowa, and some from the Twin Cities and Chicago.” Many of them are vacationing or are driving through the area to see the fall colors.
Shihata’s parents, the late Mahmoud “Moe” Shihata and his late wife, Mary Ellen, started the orchard in 1968 as a hobby on 12 acres. Mary Ellen Arenz was born and raised in La Crosse, far from her husband’s native Egypt.
Moe Shihata’s father headed the department of agriculture in an Egyptian province. Moe met Mary Ellen while he was attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his doctorate in soil science in 1953.
Their son, David, and his wife, Linda, have owned the orchard since Moe’s death in 2000. David and Linda met while both were attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and have been married for 32 years.
Most of the apples that Moe and Mary Ellen Shihata grew were purchased by wholesalers and ended up in supermarkets throughout the Upper Midwest.
But Shihata’s Orchard quit wholesaling apples and apple cider six years ago, and now sells all of both directly to consumers at the orchard.
“The margins were getting slimmer,” David Shihata said of discontinuing wholesaling. “And with the consolidation of supermarkets, they were looking to buy from fewer and larger operations.”
But Shihata’s Orchard has stepped up its retailing.
Its Apple House retail store has continued to expand its selection of specialty food products and unique gifts, Linda Shihata said. The store has a large selection of unique jellies, jams, apple butter, honey and mustards, as well as local cheeses, sausages and wines.
The Apple House is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week from mid-August to early November, while the orchard’s Bakery Barn is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
David Shihata said he and his wife added the bakery in 2013 after talking to other orchard operators. “It’s a nice add-on,” he said of the bakery, which makes such things as turnovers, cookies, pie, strudels and muffins.
In another building, the orchard also makes its own apple cider doughnuts, a product that it’s sold since 2014. “People were asking for them,” Linda Shihata said of apple cider doughnuts. “They’re a wonderful fall treat. They’re made fresh seven days a week.”
The orchard also has a Country Fun Park, which features such things as Bunnyville (an enclosure with 12 rabbits and rabbit-sized buildings such as a general store, church and school), a corn box filled with 100 bushels of shelled corn for children to play in, a large sand box slide, rope maze, teeter totter, giant spider web and a fenced-in animal display area with a llama, two donkeys, two sheep and a miniature horse. Admission to the park is $5 for children and $1 for adults.
Shihata’s Orchard also holds Orchard Fest each year, on the first full weekend in October. This year’s event will be Oct. 1-2. The event offers such things as free wagon rides into the orchard, pumpkin painting, glitter tattoos, games (one is shooting apples with a sling shot), a food stand and free sampling of food products.
“It’s an experience to come here,” Linda Shihata said of the orchard. “You can experience picking apples and pumpkins, have a picnic,” shop in the retail store and bakery, or play in the fun park.
“I’ve seen young couples come here on a date, later get married and later yet bring their children here,” she said.
The Shihatas have 17 employees at the orchard during fall apple season. They do everything by themselves during the rest of the year.
“I enjoy the change of seasons,” David Shihata said. “My job changes with every season. In the spring and summer it’s growing the crop and planting trees and pumpkins. Fall is harvest time and our sales season. In the winter we plan for the next year and do our own pruning.”