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Michigan's Apple Shortage Won't Detract From Rich History of Yates Cider Mill

For the first time in 150 years, Yates apples are from outside Michigan. But the donuts? They're just like grandpa Charles Posey used to make them.

It's not all sugar and spice in the cider industry. At  in Rochester Hills, there are a lot of numbers to get your head around, too.

Numbers like:

  • 1.7 million apples a season;
  • 300 gallons of fresh cider per hour; and
  • 600 dozen donuts per hour. 

And then there's this number: 90 percent.

That's how much of the apple crop in Michigan is gone this year, wiped out by an unseasonably warm March followed by a hard frost in April.

That number, and the millions of bushels of lost apples it represents, is presenting a challenge to local orchards and the cider mills that depend on their product.

"We've had to think outside the box this year," Yates owner Mike Titus said.

So, for the first time in its nearly 150 year history, Yates turned to out-of-state orchards. 

After his local growers told him back in April that he would need to find additional suppliers, Titus visited growers in Tennesee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and decided on apples from the mountainous regions of North Carolina and Tennessee to supplement their Michigan supplies.

"This weekend we had a full apple tent with Gala, Goldens, Macintosh and Honey Crisps," Titus said. "That's great for this time of year."

Because of the imports and the apple losses in the state, the price of cider is up at Yates — just like at other cider mills in the area. A gallon is $9.60, up from $7.95 last year. A half-gallon is $5.75 (up from $4.75). At Yates, you can also buy a quart for $3.45 and a pint for $2.75.   

In the bakery

It was the cider mill's current bestseller — donuts — that linked today's owners to the originals.  

Charles Posey rented from the Yates family as a newlywed in 1939. In 1949 he started supplying the cider mill with donuts from his snack shop: He would make the donuts at his shop and cart them down to what is now the cider mill to sell.

In 1959, Posey bought the cider mill from the Yates family and moved the donut machines on site, Titus said.

Posey, now 93, still works at the mill alongside his granddaughter, Mike's wife, Katie Titus.

And his much-loved donuts are still made fresh all day long. In fact, all the baked goods at Yates are homemade. (Mike Titus's favorite is the pocket pie: a pastry with cinnamon swirl in the dough and a fruit filling — blueberry, cherry or, of course, apple.)

Some things were meant to be

As Charles Posey's granddaughter, Katie Titus grew up surrounded by all-things cider. It was a different story for her husband, Mike.

"I am from the west side of the state and I didn't even know what a cider mill was," Mike Titus said. "Of course I knew what cider was but I thought it was made in some kind of factory."

Katie and Mike met in college on what was their first-and-last blind date, set up by a mutual friend. 

The next obvious steps — love, marriage, kids and career — kept them on the west side of the state but they would come back to help on weekends when needed. And Titus found that he loved it.

Six years ago, Katie's dad was ready to retire.

"We didn't plan on it, circumstances just came together," she said. "We wanted to keep it in the family."

It turned out to be a perfect fit. Mike Titus, an engineer who grew up on a farm, had the unique skill set to work at the cider mill and keep the cider mill working by helping Charles Posey to fix the original equipment.

"Two years ago we took apart the original turbine, made new parts for it (it was made in 1894 so you can't get parts for it anymore) and put it back together," Titus said.

That turbine is important, since it powers every gallon of cider made at Yates.

"Grandpa put the water wheel in in 1961 to show people that this is a water-powered press," Titus said. The press has been operating since 1916. Titus and Posey handmake the replacement parts for that, too.

"Everything here is old so there's always something to work on. I love it— I'm mechanical," Titus said.

The other bonus to the job is working with "grandpa" Charles Posey. "He's always got a new story to tell," Titus said, including stories of when he was a bus driver for Rochester schools. "He'd sing on the bus and he knew every kid's birthday."

Next generation

When Mike and Katie made the move east to take over the family business they brought with them the fourth generation of cider makers: their children Nate, Erica and Jared.

While all the kids help out, in the ice cream shoppe or at the register, they've held an "election" and decided that 12-year-old Jared should take over the business.

"Jared is very hands-on and lives to work," Titus said. "He told me, 'Dad, I want to do everything you do.' We are really blessed that our kids can have this life."

In fact Mike and Katie are raising their children in the house that Katie and her dad both grew up in. 

"It was built in 1865 so nothing in it is flat or straight anymore," Titus laughed.

But with good apple crops or bad, crooked houses or straight, the Titus family is happy to carry on the Yates Cider Mill tradition. 

"We love to be part of this community," Titus said. "I wake up and pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming."

Yates Cider Mill is located at 1990 East Avon Road. Their September and October hours are Monday- Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Check their web site at www.yatescidermill.com for more information on the ice cream shoppe, fudge shoppe, apple tent, live music and pony rides. Or call 248-651-8300.

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