The 100-acre complex near Munster, which is best known for its Hallowe’en activities, plans to add a 2,000-square-foot commercial kitchen in 2013. The cost of the addition was not disclosed.
The farm will use the kitchen to further develop Saunders’ wedding and corporate retreat business, according to the self-titled “director of fun,” Mark Saunders.
“It will allow us to do more banquets and catering, and improve the food catering and operations,” he said.
“We’re quite excited for this. It’s almost four years in the making to get to this point. We now just have approval (to build).”
Corporate retreat business has been flat in the last couple of years, partly because Saunders Farm hasn’t advertised them much and also because the economy in general hasn’t been great, Mr. Saunders added. To offset that, Saunders Farm is allowing more tour buses on to the property in the springtime.
Saunders has hired a chef who is assisting with the building process. The company plans to source local labourers for the build. Once the kitchen is completed, Mr. Saunders said he will hire at least five new staff for the kitchen.
Food sales were affected by this year’s drought. Mr. Saunders said his crops were not as healthy as in previous year, which hit sales of his own stock as well as the stock that he sells from neighbouring farms.
However, Saunders Farm has a backup irrigation system, which meant the crops could be saved. Some of the food grown includes pumpkins, corn and apples.
Saunders Farm’s fall festival has been in operation for 21 years. This month - its high season - it employs 165 people, but in the summer the worker numbers go down to 50.
For the Hallowe’en season, Saunders Farm’s own staff redid the infamous Barn of Terror on the property. Eighteen of the 21 rooms were changed around in such a way to disorient even the most experienced visitors, Mr. Saunders said.
Employment is slightly up from last year, and business is either flat or increasing in Saunders’ different sectors, Mr. Saunders said. The company does not disclose revenue figures.
Although business is growing, Mr. Saunders said he likes to be conservative. The company carefully nurses a cash balance, preferring to pay for capital improvements out of cash on hand rather than taking on debt.
The biggest challenge with running the farm’s annual Hallowe’en activities, Mr. Saunders said, is the lack of government support the company receives. The company does not qualify for festival funding because it is a for-profit organization.
“It’s difficult to run a business like this when you’re competing against other festivals that are government-supported,” he said.
While being careful not to begrudge the funding given to other festivals, he said it makes a quality experience more difficult to provide, especially because Saunders Farm’s business principle is to pay all workers for their time.
“We take great pride in giving back to the community,” he said. “We live in the community, and we support other businesses.”