Geauga County Public Library: When was Richards Maple Products founded?
Jen Freeman: 1910.
GCPL: What is the story behind your business? How did it begin? What challenges did you face in getting started & how did you overcome them? What challenges do you face in your day-to-day operations, and how do you overcome them? What is your favorite part of owning a business?
JF: Richards Maple began in May of 1910 with the Marriage of Will & Rena Richards. Besides selling from their farm on Clark Road in Chardon, they would haul maple syrup and two-pound blocks of maple sugar by wagon into Painesville and Cleveland to sell. Back then everyone used maple as a sweetener. White sugar was imported and very expensive.
In 1933, they had a stand at the Chicago World’s Fair selling maple syrup and maple candy. Quaker Oats had a stand giving away Aunt Jemima pancakes served with pure maple syrup to advertise their pancake mix. Will Richards went and asked the gentleman in charge where he got his maple syrup. He thought it was from Vermont. Will said Ohio has wonderful syrup and the man said he didn’t know Ohio made maple syrup. The Quaker Oats gentleman said to bring him some to try. He did just that and Quaker Oats loved it. They said to bring them 1,000 gallons to serve with the Aunt Jemima pancakes.
At this time, it was almost the end of the syrup season and most of the maple syrup that was made in Geauga County was put on a train in Cleveland to be sold elsewhere. Will put an ad in the local newspaper to buy any maple syrup locally made and said that he would pay $0.07 per pound for it (a gallon is 11lbs = $0.77 per gallon. Today maple syrup retails for around $60.00 per gallon). He did get the 1,000 gallons and his cousin drove it to the Chicago World’s Fair with his Studebaker truck from Chardon. The Quaker Oats gentleman was very pleased and said he had some sour Vermont syrup left over.
In 1936 and 1937 at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, OH, Richards had 2 stands featured there. One had maple products for sale and the other was a pancake house serving Aunt Rena’s pancakes. Come to find out, Richards bought Aunt Jemima pancake mix and Quaker Oats furnished a woman dressed like Aunt Jemima to help cook the pancakes. They had 2 griddles going at all times. Paul Richards, their son, and second-generation owner, ran one of the griddles at the age of 13 and Aunt Jemima ran the other.
At the end of the Great Lakes Exposition, Will & Rena purchased the two buildings from the exposition and moved into the center of Chardon – just a ¼ mile west of the square on Route 6. They first built the sugarhouse on the property, which we still make maple syrup in today, and then they built the store.
After their son, Paul Richards, served in WWII, came home, got married and started a family, he took over and grew the family business. He had six children. They grew up right there at the shop, helping out and learning. Paul & Clara Jean’s daughter Debbie & her husband Dave took the business to the next level by adding all kinds of maple sauces, maple coated nuts, maple dressing and other products. They patiently taught the next generation and paved the way. We are now into the fourth generation with Jen, her brother Matt & their partner Fred running Richards. May marks our 109th year.
GCPL: What is your favorite part of owning a business?
JF: My favorite part is letting folks know that Ohio makes maple syrup and good syrup at that!! There are still a lot of people that think that maple syrup is only made in Canada or New England.
GCPL: What advice do you have for people who want to start a business?
JF: I was very blessed to come into an established business. That being said, folks seem to love unique items or a unique business with a good story behind it.
GCPL: What have you been reading lately?
JF: I always love John Grisham books. I have also seen the black & white movie the library has of early Maple Festivals – that was very neat to see. It’s great that these events are still a tradition today.