Have you ever made a really big decision on the spur of the moment? That’s what Nick Deeter did two years ago. At 109 years old, the Old Mill in Leesburg was falling over and being auctioned off. Nick Deeter, who had worked there as a boy, randomly decided to buy it. His great-grandfather had opened it in 1905, and he just couldn’t bear to see the old mill torn down.
An experienced entrepreneur, Deeter had previously started 11 businesses—though after owning a classic and exotic car business in Cleveland, Ohio, vowed to never do retail again. So after purchasing the mill, he was left deciding what to do with the antique building. His idea was to create a Shipshewana South, since there is nothing like that close to Warsaw—and yes, that meant retail.
Why take on the Old Mill?
“I grew up in Leesburg, and worked at the Mill as a boy, putting feed into big burlap bags that weighed 80-100 pounds—It was the kind of job that made you want to go to college,” Deeter explained with a smile. “I know a lot of the people that come in here, many of them I hadn’t seen in years—so that is fun. This is a great town and I wanted a chance to give back. Leesburg really needed something different and interesting. Downtown is nearly deserted, but I think as people like me and Maple Leaf make a commitment to keep businesses alive, other people will come in and buy up those old store fronts and open them up again. Otherwise these little Midwestern towns just die off. This was kind of my way of giving back to this town.”
After spending an entire year on extensive interior renovations (plumbing, roofing, electric), Deeter was ready to re-open the Old Mill. The government, however, had other ideas. Three representatives from Homeland Security made Deeter check his list more than twice.
He had to redo the hand railing three times, add extra alarm systems, install a stove light for the deaf, and add a post-alarm recording. When the representatives told Deeter it had to be a bilingual post-alarm recording, he drew the line. “I am like, this thing was ready to fall down, and now it is actually a thriving business. Give me a break,” Deeter said, laughing.
He opened the Old Mill after Memorial Day, 2013. The old world charm stayed the same, and it gained many new attractions.
Their sandwiches with fresh veggies are a must-try, and Amish soups are served daily. (Writer’s note: Take it from me, the chicken noodle soup is to die for—especially if you are among the masses fighting off a cold.)
The Old Mill not only offers an amazing deli, they sell high-quality, fresh-cut meat that is hormone and steroid free. The meats are supplied by Jones’, the same supplier who used to provide meats to the legendary meat shop downtown Leesburg. People would come from all over the county to get meat from Jones’, but it closed down one year ago. Now customers can keep getting the meat they are used to. “It’s great quality stuff,” Deeter said.
The Old Mill also has a tasty bakery, and an ice cream shop with all the toppings.
A recent addition is the Five and Dime shop. Deeter explained, “I bought a dollar store franchise a year ago, and turned that into a dime store in the front. In the summer, we have lake traffic come in. So our motto is you don’t have to drive all the way to Walmart (which is brutal anyway), you can just stop here and pick up whatever you need. We have everything from baby pacifiers to toilet paper and gift wrap. That solves a lot of problems.”
Coffee has become the most prominent of Deeter’s recent endeavors. The Mill has its own Café Mod franchise, thanks to his purchase of Café Mod North last May and the Café Mod East last month, both located in Warsaw, Ind. The Mill’s sandwiches and soups are all sold at Café Mod. “One thing we get requests for at Café Mod is other lunch/breakfast items that aren’t high calorie and are vegetarian. So next week, we are introducing quiche.” Deeter said.
Look for more on Café Mod in an upcoming blog!
It takes 50 employees to cover all three facilities over the seven days they are open.
The Old Mill’s Future
“I bought extra lots around the Mill. There is a lot of things that can be done. For instance, this is a great spot for a farmers market. I also envision a big corn maze, and upstairs is scary even in the daylight, so it could be a fun haunted house. This would also be a great place for people to come buy pumpkins and apples, or go for hayrides. As we kind of get our arms around the current business and take advantage of the ground around us, we will draw folks in.”
When asked what advice he would have for other businesses and entrepreneurs, Deeter replied: “The year before last I won the Entrepreneur Of The Year award, I had to look at how many businesses I started—it was 11 at the time. The thing I have noticed with retail business is that it takes about three years of losing money. So not only do you need start-up cash, you need enough to get you through that first three years. If you don’t have that capital then you shouldn’t start because all you’re going to do is waste the money you do have. You can’t just say ‘well this is a hobby of mine’ or ‘a great idea,’ and expect it to take off. It takes at least three years for people to flock—even if it is a good idea. If it is a bad idea, they will never flock to it. It takes a lot of money, and there are always a million surprises—like alarm systems. But if you keep getting closer to breaking even, if you are two years into it and you are trending the right way, hang on.”
“We seriously love PayProTec. When there is an issue, they are the only ones that answer our calls. Most other companies blame shift saying, ‘no it is your internet’ or whatever, but PayProTec actually finds the problem—even if it has nothing to do with them!”
Locally Owned, Serving Everything Fresh
If you haven’t been to the new Old Leesburg Mill or Café Mod, check them out! “You can’t miss us! Literally, every winter we get two or three cars that come across the railroad tracks and run into the building. So you can’t miss the building, even when you want to miss it!” Deeter said with a smile.