An Amish Family Story
Amish folk like any other seek greener pastures to stake a claim in the pursuit of happiness.
Harry Miller’s family went from Kansas to Iowa, and that’s where he met the love of his life, Lydia. Together, they started a family and added to it after moving to Wisconsin and, from there, Indiana.
The Indiana Amish community was significant. Sometimes, Amish adventurers like to start smaller communities and keep things modest. When they find suitable land to begin a community anew, they work together to erect their schools.
An Amish friend and carpenter said to Harry, “Let’s check out Ohio.”
So in 1976, the young Miller family moved to a small start-up Amish community in the foothills of Appalachia about an hour east of Cincinnati. They’ve been there ever since.
On their rural farm, Lydia’s baking captured the senses of the surrounding community and beyond. People came to the house to get the tasty treats.
Harry and some children would also load the horse and buggy and head to the local courthouse or travel to places like Portsmouth, Ohio, to sell Lydia’s baked goods. Customers would then trek to Miller’s farm to restock. By the end of 1977, a fledgling business was on the rise.
Meanwhile, the community around them took on the nickname Wheat Ridge Amish because the families settled along the country road by that name. Word of new communities spread by mouth and Amish publications like the weekly Budget newspaper.
Harry and Lydia’s six children grew up with the business, and in the 1980’s it was no longer home-based. They opened a new building for the bakery operation still on their property. Daniel, one of the Miller children, worked in the bakery and with his siblings. Around this time, Daniel met an Amish girl named Mary, who moved with her family from Maryland to the growing Wheat Ridge community. They were eventually married.
“I knew I didn’t want to work in the bakery forever,” Daniel chuckled at the memory of those early days.
So young Daniel tried his hand at carpentry and worked in a skid factory. Eventually, he partnered with his older brother Gerold to go into the furniture business. In the early 1990s, the Millers started to offer some Amish-made furniture. By the late 90s, they built a furniture store across the parking lot from the bakery and a bulk foods store.
In 1994, Miller’s patriarch, Harry, passed away. Lydia continues to do things around the stores to this day.
“If I harass her about getting older, she’ll say, ‘Watch what you say because you’re right behind me,'” Daniel smiled.
Daniel has the Miller family personality trait of making life as happy as possible and injecting humor where needed. One day, a lady came into the furniture store with her husband. He was smiling, but she was not. Daniel aimed to change that. The lady described chairs she had bought there many years earlier and wondered if the store still offered them.
“Right now, I’m kind of balding, so I said to her, ‘Oh, that was back when I had an afro,” Daniel snickered.
She looked at him and said that’s not true—your lying.
Daniel said, “I just wanted to give you a belly laugh.”
She said she didn’t want a belly laugh.
“But she got one anyway,” Daniel said. “A belly laugh is good medicine.”
But Daniel didn’t laugh the day his older brother and partner in the furniture business said he was turning Mennonite and wanted to do something else. The difference between Amish and Mennonite is that the Amish are more traditional. Amish travel by horse and buggy, whereas Mennonites may own and drive their vehicles. Amish can ride in cars, but they won’t own and operate their own. And although in their stores they use solar power to charge batteries to run cash registers, they won’t use electricity in their private lives.
“We never did have electricity,” Daniel said. “But it’s more of a tradition. It’s not like, aw man, you’ll never make it to Heaven if you use electricity. We just think that having electricity will lead to plugging in more than we really need to, you know what I mean.”
He continued to say that people often ask how Amish can make it without a TV.
“I wonder how I’d make it with a TV,” Daniel reasoned. “For one, I’d never get anything done.”
With Gerold having gone off to build barns, Daniel wondered if he should continue running the furniture business by himself. He was worried he couldn’t succeed on his own.
“I told my wife, I don’t know if I can do this, maybe I’ll do carpentry instead,” Daniel remembered.
She said, no, you won’t like that. You can do this. So Daniel turned to God to ask for help.
“I said, hey, the only way I’m going to be able to do this is if the good Lord is going to help me,” Daniel said.
But it looked like a big mountain before him.
“I recently read, if you’re a climber, there’s no hill,” Daniel added.
He borrowed more money from the bank, but he got nervous when they said, no problem. He added a building. With his wife’s help, mainly, it all worked out. And they counted their blessings.
Today, the furniture business is massive. The Millers sell anything you can imagine, from kitchens to bedrooms, grandfather clocks, desks, chairs, outdoor furniture, playsets, barns, etc. Their most sought-after offerings are dining tables and chairs in addition to nursery gliders, bed frames, TV stands, computer desks, and lawn furniture.
The bulk food store is one place at Millers where local Amish families shop almost as much as the tourists. It’s a grocery where all kinds of natural ingredients are available for home cooking. The aisles are full of fresh bulk baking supplies, jams, candies, and more. They also carry a wide variety of cheese and meats.
But people love to come in for the freshly made pretzel sandwiches stacked high with deli meat and veggies. The demand is so high that there’s even a café setting with indoor dining tables.
Perhaps the best setting is to grab a picnic table in the nearby pavilion overlooking the rolling hills of rural Adams County, Ohio.
And for dessert, there’s anything from old-fashioned candies to fudge and buckeyes, but the favorite choice by most is the cashew brittle.
Larry Miller and his wife Esther run the bakery. They are up early most mornings doing what the family has done for decades – create fresh deliciousness right before your eyes. Customers know to get there early if they want to load up on fried pies, donuts, and crème horns before they sell out. There’s nothing like seeing something come hot out of the oven right before your eyes.
“Each of the stores also has seasonal favorites,” Daniel explained. “We sell a lot of jewelry boxes, rockers, and sliding mirrors around Christmas. The bakery can’t make enough cream pies, raisin coconut, and peanut butter treats during the holiday season. The same goes for the bulk food store’s demand for gift boxes filled with candies and cheeses.”
One of the more interesting items they sell is chicken houses.
“It’s surprising how many people are getting back to raising chickens,” Daniel said.
Daniel made a point to say that they don’t want people to think they do a better job making things just because they’re Amish. He wants their products to speak for themselves without being labeled Amish.
Over the years, people have come from further and further away to this Wheat Ridge Amish community and Millers Bakery, Furniture & Bulk Foods stores. Whether Daniel says so or not, if people don’t automatically think Amish-made means better quality, folks certainly equate quality with Millers. But as strong as Miller’s brand has become through word-of-mouth, Daniel and his siblings also benefit from much media coverage over the years. Still, they reach out with ads and billboards locally and beyond the region.
“Donna’s Dynomite has brought us many people,” Daniel said. “It’s a nice brochure with coupons for a free pretzel or birdfeeder. We may give over 200 bird feeders away at times, but people usually leave with more than that.”
Amish merchants like Millers won’t engage directly with computers or the Internet. Again, it’s because time there is better spent elsewhere. So they hire someone else to engage in that type of promotion. Today, you can find Millers online at www.wheatridgeamish.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But it’s all done by an outside marketing guru that they contracted to handle this kind of outreach.
“We still don’t do TV ads,” said Daniel. “Being Amish, TV doesn’t impress me.”
Ninety-five percent of Miller’s bakery and furniture business comes from people outside the immediate community. When customers stop to chat with members of the Miller family, Daniel and his family learn of misconceptions that the outside world has of Amish living.
“We definitely pay taxes,” Daniel said. “A lot of people think we don’t, but we do, and we may pay more than the English, even, because we support the local schools even though we don’t use them. We build and run our own.”
Another misconception people have of the Amish comes from the depiction in a TV show called the Amish Mafia.
“They imagine every group has, like, hit people – no, no, no, that’s just not true. If something doesn’t go quite right, people may get together to work it out, but they don’t go around shooting out car windows,” Daniel laughed at the absurdity.
But Daniel, always looking to share a belly laugh, says he likes to harass people a little when they come in, so he’ll joke, “If you guys don’t straighten up, we have the Amish mafia back here.”
The Millers go to work around 7 or 8 a.m. and close up shop around 5 p.m. They eat supper together.
“I’m old-fashioned, so I still call it supper,” Daniel said.
After supper, Daniel might work in the garden, or he’ll help clean horse stalls. He said there’s always something to do.
Millers’ stores are closed on Sunday, which is for God. They attend church in each other’s houses, gathering as many as 15 to 20 families together in a big room or basement. When the Millers aren’t hosting, they’ll attend other community worshiping groups. Families come together again in the evening to hear a youth hymnal. After 30 to 60 minutes of singing, they share supper.
“After all that, my Sunday isn’t complete unless I have some good old-fashioned popcorn and get a little bit of lazy, ya-know,” Daniel smiled.
One of Daniel’s favorite pastimes is fishing. He heads to nearby watering holes to cast a line in a pond or creek with one of his five children. But he most enjoys traveling. Daniel has a non-Amish friend who he can hire to provide transportation to places like Florida. There are plenty of opportunities to travel far using tour companies that arrange trips for Amish groups by the busload.
“One thing about Amish, we like to travel,” Daniel laughed.
His biggest trip was to Hawaii, and he plans to go to Alaska next.
The Miller family has a third-generation helping out now at the stores. They also help with special events throughout the year.
- Memorial Day weekend, there’s a Storewide Sale offering 10% off all items in stock at the furniture store (excluding outdoor building and gazebos and select bedroom sets).
- Labor Day weekend, they have a sale offering 10 percent off all items in stock at the furniture store, except all outdoor buildings, gazebos, and select bedroom sets. It’s recommended to order early for Christmas. It is during this weekend that they also host an annual Amish School Benefit Cookout. The menu includes hamburgers, hot dogs, noodles, Chip’s fresh pie, homemade ice cream, coffee, and soft drinks.
- October is when they celebrate the annual Miller’s Anniversary Customer Appreciation Day. Visitors get a free calendar complete with sales dates and special event dates for the following year. The menu includes BBQ chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, fresh pie, homemade ice cream, coffee, and soft drinks.
- Also in October is the Wheat Ridge Old Thyme Herb Fair & Harvest Celebration at 817 Tater Ridge Rd. in West Union, Ohio. It runs Friday – Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Call 937-544-8252 or click here for more details about this event.
- In November, there’s a Storewide Thanksgiving Sale offering 10 percent off all items in stock (furniture store only). It excludes all outdoor buildings, gazebos, and select bedroom sets.
- And the week between Christmas and the New Year, there’s the End of Year Clearance Sale! It includes complimentary coffee and cookies at the bakery and free cheese and candy samples at the Bulk Foods Store. Get 10 percent off all items in stock (furniture store only), excluding all outdoor buildings, gazebos, and select bedroom sets.
Millers Bakery, Furniture, and Bulk Foods stores are at 960 Wheat Ridge Road in West Union, Ohio. Their phone number is 937-544-8524. They can also be found online at www.WheatRidgeAmish.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Tour Tour Guide to Fun!