Photo courtesy of The Elegant Farmer
Keith Schmidt began working at Mukwonago’s Elegant Farmer Farm Kitchen, Bakery, Deli and Market on April 26, 1998. “I got to know Farmer Dan in 1990,” he explains, referencing an earlier owner of the Elegant Farmer. “He came into my previous employer to sell the famous apple pies baked in a paper bag. A few years later, he gave me a job.” Now 25 years later, Keith has bought out his two partners and brought his wife and daughter on board, taking over ownership of the beloved local market.
Keith says that since coming to the Elegant Farmer in the 1990s, he has done a little bit of everything over the years and loved the experience. Then in 2006, Farmer Dan approached him about taking over. Keith ended up becoming a one-third partner in the Elegant Farmer, along with two of his brothers, and together the three of them have been running the store for 17 years. However, earlier this year, his brothers told him they were ready to retire. Keith wanted to stay on, so he and his wife bought out his brothers’ shares, and their daughter, Katie, joined the family business as well.
In fact, the Elegant Farmer has been a family business since it was founded in 1946 by brothers Dave and Elmer Schneel. They started with 50 head of Guernsey cattle and sold surplus fruits and vegetables at a farm stand on the site of the present-day Elegant Farmer, which they named Davelmer Market. The stand soon evolved into a permanent, year-round market. When Elmer Schneel’s son, Farmer Dan, and his wife took over the market in 1970, they changed the name to the Elegant Farmer.
Thanks to the popularity of its house-made products, including the famous apple pie, as well as options like the signature cider-baked ham (cured with apple cider made on site), the Elegant Farmer is a popular year-round destination for people looking for special deli, bakery and farm-grown options. In 2008, the Elegant Farmer was even featured on the Food Network’s “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay.”
Looking to the future, Katie Schmidt says the goal is to keep the elements that make the Elegant Farmer such a popular shopping experience, drawing visitors from Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as locally. “We’re really focused on maintaining its integrity,” she says. “Even from the time my dad started in 1998, we’re trying to always keep it a nice, family-friendly, farm-fresh kitchen.” She points to events like the crowd-favorite Autumn Harvest Fest (including pick-your-own apples and pumpkins) as well as the unique arrangement with the East Troy Railroad, which allows visitors to ride a vintage train between the East Troy Depot and the Elegant Farmer during warm-weather months. She also says that they will look at ways to possibly expand the business in the future. “Expansion is always fun,” she says. We can always see where the next few years take us.”