Along with the delicious smell of apples, the family atmosphere of the Merciers permeates the premises.

It started as a business built on apples, and 71 years later, apples are still the basis of the thriving Blue Ridge, Georgia, enterprise known as Mercier Orchards. Fifty varieties of apples are now grown on the majority of the 300 acres surrounding the orchard store.

Purchased by Adele and Bill Mercier in 1943, the family-run orchard has expanded through the generations to include a deli, bakery, restaurant, a winery with a tasting room, barrels and barrels of apples, and lots of local and Georgia state products.

“I went away to college, earning degrees in horticulture and plant pathology,” says Tim Mercier, current Mercier’s CEO. “After a tour of duty in the army, we returned to the family farm in 1972. While I grew apples and carried on the family business, my wife, Sandra, taught school. Today, our older daughter, Melissa, and her husband, David Lillard, are an important part of the family business.”

“Melissa is in charge of merchandising, while David oversees fruit and cider product,” says Mercier. “Also playing an integral role in the business is our other son-in-law, Joseph Foster, who is in charge of marketing, special projects, and administration. He is married to our younger daughter, Mandy, who is a Superior Court Judge for the Appalachian Circuit.”

But the family connection doesn’t stop there. “The fourth generation can be seen most days in the market,” reports Mercier. “The oldest grandchild, Zach, is a part-time worker while attending college. Our two granddaughters, Annabel and Alex, are already learning about the business on a daily basis.”

All that is by design. “Our goal has always been to manage Mercier Orchards so that it will be sustainable for years to come, and be passed on to the next generation,” says Mercier. And he adds with a smile, “Indeed, we are ‘growing for you’ since 1943.”

“The most popular apples are Pink Lady, Fuji, Mutsu and Cameos,” says Kim Foster, Retail Market Manager. “Some are sweet, some are tart, and some are a combination of both.” In any given year, Mercier’s will harvest and sell anywhere from 65,000 to 75,000 bushels of apples, and host over 600,000 visitors.

Apple products are available all over the store, and dominate the bakery section too. “We’ve got all kinds of apple pastries, apple bread, apple cider donuts, apple fritters,” says Foster. “We also do cakes, and have a candy kitchen where we make fudge and, of course, caramel apples. And for the past couple of years, we’ve been producing apple wine (and peach wine) and hard cider at the farm winery.”

The favorite treat by far is the fried apple pies. “We still use Adele Mercier’s original recipe,” says Foster. “And apple is definitely our best seller, even though we have over 20 flavors.”

Expanding the palate

While apples are the mainstay of Mercier’s, as the mountain town of Blue Ridge has blossomed over the years, so too has the variety of fruits offered by the orchard. “We keep expanding our line of ‘U-Pick ‘em’ fruits,” says Foster. And while fall is definitely the busiest time of year, with tractor tours every weekend in October (and earlier depending on Mother Nature), the other products are expanding the seasons. “We’re getting busier in the summer, especially with the strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries and all seasonably available.”

“Vendors have a wide variety of stores within our store,” says Foster. “So we have toys, kitchen items, pet supplies, bird seed, and yard products. We even have products like Georgia olive oil that’s grown in a special area of the state.” In the deli section, you can find soups, salads, grilled and cold sandwiches, hot dishes, wraps and daily specials.

Along with the delicious smell of apples, the family atmosphere of the Merciers permeates the premises. The friendly staff definitely knows its apples, and all have their favorites. Linda Bandy, a 30+ year employee, says “I enjoy working here because of the people I work with and the many people I’ve had the pleasure of serving over the generations.” As for her pick of the crop? “I have a lot of favorite apples,” she says with a laugh, “but my preferences are Ambrosia, Fuji, and Pink Lady.”

Mercier Orchards continues to expand and add to its bountiful harvest. “We’ve been fortunate to be located in a beautiful spot where we can grow pretty much whatever we want to. And our customers are loyal. They keep coming back year after year,” says Tim Mercier.

Generations of Merciers and generations of customers make for a good partnership. And any trip to the North Georgia mountains has to include a stop at this oasis of good taste. The Merciers make sure nobody goes away hungry. The picturesque setting doesn’t hurt either.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.