Ever since the 1920s, thousands of Mennonite and Amish people have escaped the rigors of northern U.S. winters each year by flocking to Sarasota, Florida. The plainly dressed men and women, who travel on packed buses from their homes in such northern U.S. settlements as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio, were featured in a photo essay in The New Yorker last week and in an article in the online travel magazine Atlas Obscura the week before.
Yoder’s Amish Restaurant and Village serves the old order snowbird community called Pinecraft, a neighborhood located a few miles east of the beaches, the bay, and downtown Sarasota, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Yoder’s is evidently known for its pies, and the bakers in the restaurant make up to 100 of them every day for their customers. The Atlas Obscura writer, much like the Amish and non-Amish patrons, was clearly overwhelmed by the vast choices of pies—peanut butter cream, double-baked red raspberry, Florida key lime, strawberry rhubarb, and so on.
Amos Yoder, a brother of the founder of the restaurant, Levi Yoder, still greets customers with stories of his family. Levi had come south from his previous home in Indiana since his doctor had recommended it might help with his Parkinson’s disease. The Amish had first settled in the area in the 1920s hoping to grow celery, but the soil conditions were not right for that crop. But many enjoyed the sunshine break from the northern winters and they began staying, at least until spring.
The Amish visitors of course do not travel to Florida with their horses and buggies, and since they don’t drive cars, they get around Pinecraft on large tricycles. They frequent the shuffleboard courts, venues for live music, and of course Yoder’s. When Levi and his wife Amanda Yoder passed away, their children and then their grandchildren inherited the business. It has expanded into a store that sells gifts, produce, and deli products. The business employs 150 people.
Yoder’s has evolved into one of the central meeting spots in Pinecraft for the Amish, Mennonites, and non-Anabaptist people living in or just visiting the community. They share a common interest in pies, and when they finish eating, they adjourn to the nearby Pinecraft Park where they can join with others in a fierce game of shuffleboard.
The article in The New Yorker mentioned that the fairly strict rules of the Amish society are somewhat relaxed in Pinecraft. Some women wear earrings beneath their white bonnets; some of the houses used by the Amish have satellite dishes. In addition to playing games of shuffleboard, the people go swimming, play volleyball, and enjoy ice-cream cones every evening.