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40 Acres of Entertainment | Features


128-year-old Jacob’s Farm unveiling its latest transformation: a new eatery, open-air bar, concert venue, and more to come.
Aug. 29, 2020

Jacob’s Farm — a centennial farm just outside of Traverse City that’s home to a popular seasonal corn maze — has embarked on its next big chapter, transforming into a “family entertainment destination,” one that’ll sport a full kitchen, open-air bar, renovated barn for weddings and events, plus potential for outdoor concerts, festivals, and even movie screenings.

Jacob’s Farm owner Mike Witkop, who grew up on the farm and spearheaded the farm’s foray into giant corn mazes with his wife, Laverna, more than a decade ago, teamed up in this venture with two other TC-transforming entrepreneurs, Nate Crane, of Rare Bird Brewpub, and Troy Daily, of Paddle for Pints. For two-and-a-half years, the trio has been working on plans to turn the 40-acre site into a family-centered agritourism destination. Construction on the expansion, though delayed by the pandemic, has been underway since early spring. And as soon as Labor Day weekend, visitors to the property may be able to experience some of the key changes.

EAT, DRINK & GET LOST
As part of renovations to the property’s historic barn — originally built in 1892 — a new outdoor bar and patio area is being constructed, complete with a man-made pond, twinkling lights, restrooms, and table seating extending out into the surrounding lawn. The upper level of the barn is being renovated to include an indoor event space and outdoor deck, which will be open to the public when the 80-capacity venue isn’t hosting weddings and events.

As the full-service kitchen cranks out family friendly fare like traditional round pizzas, salads, and of course, caramel apples and donuts, Crane said the bar will have about a dozen taps. Among the offerings: exclusive varietals from Traverse City’s Silver Spruce Brewing Company and Left Foot Charley winery and cidery. A select handful of draft cocktails, like margaritas, will also be available.

The property’s liquor license extends nearly the full 40 acres, allowing adult visitors to explore the site with a drink in hand. (The corn maze also will feature occasional “adult-only” evening hours, allowing participants to enjoy a libation while touring the 80- to 90-minute maze.) An online ordering system will allow guests to place orders virtually and be notified when their selections are ready for pick-up. The site’s sprawling size offers almost unlimited potential for social distancing, the partners note.

The farm’s U-Pick operations and popular 10-acre corn maze, featuring a different computer-designed layout each year, will remain the heart of the business. This year’s maze features a Michigan Shipwrecks theme; operating hours are 10am–6pm.

FUTURE ENDEAVORS
Elsewhere on the property, the partners plan to build a new disc golf course, beach volleyball courts, and a children’s play area. Hayrides will be offered throughout the season, and a new saddle-span tent — with a performance stage — will be installed, facing a natural hillside amphitheater, allowing Jacob’s Farm to host outdoor concerts, festivals, and movie screenings. While Crane brought his expertise to the property’s bar program, Daily — who runs several local event and tour-based companies, along with festivals including winter’s Suds & Snow and summer’s Suds & Sun — is focusing on events.

“We can probably park 400 cars here and have up to 1,000 people,” says Daily. “We’re trying to do something unique that Traverse City doesn’t have. It will be a family entertainment destination that will have something for everyone in the family. We want a place like Uncle Johns [Cider Mill, in St. Johns, Michigan], where there are so many activities to do when you visit.”

While 1,000-person events may not be feasible in the immediate near-term future — the partners say that with the exception of a possible concert this fall, they’re currently booking all events and weddings out to 2021 – Jacob’s Farm is uniquely poised to thrive in the pandemic. The property will only operate seasonally, from May to October, and with the exception of the upstairs barn venue, is entirely outdoors.

“I don’t want to say it’s a blessing in disguise,” says Crane, “but of any business to open during a pandemic, thank God we have one where it’s all outside.”

Crane and Daily say they originally envisioned opening a brewery-focused concept on the farm property — one that would have turned out very similar to Farm Club, which Gary and Allison Jonas and Nic and Sara Theisen just opened 4.5 miles away in neighboring Leelanau County. The partners say they’re grateful they decided to take a different approach but hope both Jacob’s Farm and Farm Club can help build momentum to market the M-72 corridor area between Grand Traverse and Leelanau County as an agritourism destination.

Said Crane: “We’re hoping it can be something where it’s a fall destination, where people maybe check us both out.”





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