Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weisenberger family marks 150 years in the milling business on the bank of South Elkhorn Creek

Phil Weisenberger is the sixth-generation manager of his family's mill on South Elkhorn Creek near Midway.

Weisenberger displays cornmeal immediately after grinding.
Story and photos by Jamilyn Hall
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

On the bank of South Elkhorn Creek near Midway stands Weisenberger Mill, where the family is celebrating 150 years in business at the same location. The mill has passed through six generations and continues to create a local product with wide reach.

Above bottles of the mill's grains and their basic grinds are
portraits of Gus Weisenberger, Phil's great-grandfather, and
Phil Weisenberger, his grandfather, who died in 2008.
Founder August Weisenberger, an immigrant from Germany, bought an earlier mill at the site and began milling corn and wheat into flour in 1865, by using the water from the creek to power the mill.

“We have been open for 150 years, since 1865. We still grind things the same way that we did in 1913,” when the current mill was built, said Philip Weisenberger, manager and son of owner Mac Weisenberger.

Weisenberger is a small company with a large reach, making about 85 percent of its sales wholesale, Weisenberger said.

Sacks of flour boldly labeled "WEISENBERGER" are prepared for shipping at the mill's loading dock.
The mill sells to companies like Miguel's Pizzeria in Slade, Ky., and companies in Lexington. “We sell to these distributors that go to restaurants,” Weisenberger said. “We haven’t sold to Keeneland, but I would say our products are sold to a food service company that services Keeneland.”

When the Breeders’ Cup came to Lexington, the family company saw increase in business. “I have noticed an increase in people stopping by here in the last week,” Weisenberger said that week.  “There’s a lot more people in town looking for culture and things to see.”

About 15 percent of the mill's business is retail.
The mill is a way to consume local products. The grains are Kentucky grown, and the mill has a wide variety of products, such as muffin mix, pizza crust mix and seasoning flour.

“I have seen an increase in the awareness and the desire to buy local, and local foods, in the last five years,” Weisenberger said. “That has really helped us in some ways to increase awareness of local foods. All of our grain here is grown in Kentucky, it’s non-GMO [genetically modified organisms]. So it really is local food in every sense of the way.”

The Weisenbergers and their three employees look to extend their reach, at trade shows.

“The Incredible Food Show was this past weekend, this was our seventh year,” said Phil. “It’s a local food event in downtown Lexington. It caters to a lot of foodies and other people that like to cook at home.”

Boxes of products are ready for shipping.
Weisenberger said the company donates to various local charities throughout the year giving to schools for charity auctions, the Lions Club, Shriners, Goodwill, churches and other ways to give back to Woodford and Scott counties. The mill is in Scott, but the creek is the county line and the Weisenbergers are more identified with Woodford – and with Midway.

The mill’s power source has been one of its few changes since 1865. “You can’t rely on the water,” because the creek level varies, Weisenberger said. “In the 1930s they put in diesel power to run the mill and then after that they put in electricity.”

The mill continues to use creek water, but “to turn turbines, and then it turns an electric generator and makes electricity,” Weisenberger said loudly over the roar of the machines. “We use electricity to run the mill, but we use the generator to generate electricity to offset the costs.”

Another thing that has changed is the technology for dealing with customers. “We interact with customers with email and Internet sales, that has changed,” said Weisenberger.

But in 150 years of business the Weisenbergers haven’t seen much change. “We still grind the corn and we still grind the wheat essentially the same way,” Weisenberger said.

“One thing that used to drive me crazy as a kid was, nothing changed out here; it was always the same. There’s something to be said about finding something you do good and sticking to it, that's what we do.”
The mill's interior has the original wood floors but lots of modern equipment. It's a manufacturing plant.


Grits said...

I think your great and the flour and other products are one of a kind. I came home I made sure I went by the Mill to get my stash of goodies. Thanks for the goodies. Love them.

Unknown said...

The bast home made pizza we ever made is still from your pizza crust mix Elizabeth gave us 20 years ago.

Rufus said...

And grits -- don't forget the grits. I've eaten (and purchased) packaged grits all over the South and none --none -- comes close to the quality and taste of Weisenberger's. I buy a bag every time I go to Berea.