The Pear Tree Restaurant was destroyed by fire in late 2012 and the owners have no immediate plans to re-open it.
The Abbadessas' other, more casual restaurant in Macon, AJ's Eat & Drink, and the Pear Tree online store are still open, however.
You usually don't think of salad as the highlight of a really good meal.
You might, though, if you've been to the Pear Tree Restaurant in tiny Bevier, Mo., just south of Highway 36 in Macon County, and sampled Mike and Al Abbadessa's signature homemade dressings and croutons.
Here's one review from an online travel and dining guide:
"We started with the must-have onion rings made fresh to order which, were perfectly crisp. Next up was the salad, probably my favorite part of the meal. A bowl of fresh greens is served tableside with little dishes of hot garlic croutons and feta cheese. Customizing your own salad is fun, but topping it with one of their homemade dressings is even better! They place a carousel of their three famous dressings for you to mix and match. The Nippy Bleu Cheese is chunky and creamy, the Madam French is classic and their Sweet and Sour house dressing is not to be missed!"
And that's one of the more restrained reviews out there. Some are all in capitals, bolded, with multiple exclamation marks or all three:
"Blown Away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This place is a hidden jewel!! I love it. The food is out of this world and you leave FULL."
A variety of steaks and lobster comprise 80 percent of the Pear Tree's in-house sales, says Mike Abbadessa, running with the baton passed on by his father, Al, who founded the Pear Tree in 1986. The Pear Tree has generated so much great word of mouth and so many awards, including Best of Rural Missouri and a 2005 Reader's Choice Awards for Best Steak, that gourmets flock from all over the Midwest to the unassuming restaurant, located in an unassuming former bank brick building.
"Draw a 150-mile circle around Bevier, that's where our customers come from," says Abbadessa as he drives back from a trade show in Indianapolis to expand his relatively new manufacturing corporation's reach. Pear Tree Manufacturing currently places the Abbadessas' salad dressings, gourmet garlic croutons and seasonings in grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the Midwest. "Last Saturday, we had four tables all the way from Omaha. They scheduled a trip to St. Louis around eating at the Pear Tree. We get a lot of repeat business."
Pear Tree Manufacturing was launched three years ago, before the recession dragged consumer spending into the mire. How are sales going in this age of the ultra-cautious consumer?
"It's going great, really," he says. Pear Tree Manufacturing is well established throughout Missouri and has toeholds in the Chicago and Cincinnati metro areas. "It [the manufacturing arm] is pretty new, but expanding very well. We are sending out a couple hundred cases of croutons a month."
There's a large market for croutons?
"Oh yes," he says. "Our main competitor — those guys, they're just bottom line. That's cheap bread, stale, dry and hard. Mine are different, a completely different product. Ours are real gourmet garlic croutons."
Pear Tree's croutons are homemade and fresh — "garlicky, crunchy and delicious," says an UrbanSpoon review.
Pear Tree receives royalties from its products. Royalties, more common in the arts and large American technology-intensive firms, are rare in small-scale industries. Abbadessa says this arrangement has its plusses and minuses; while he receives a percentage of gross receipts, the supplier has more commercial control.
He says he's worked hard on pricing and while a pack of his croutons are more expensive than that of large corporate competitors' and thus require a bit more salesmanship, once a supermarket picks his products up they are generally a keeper.
"There are a lot of products out there" like Pear Tree's, he says, all competing for shelf space. Some are very well-established brands. "But they were new once, too."
Abbadessa is quick to credit the Macon County MU Extension SBTDC, located in the nearby town of Macon, with a share of his success.
In 2010, the Abbadessas contacted a Macon County developer for funding help. Executive Director Denise Bennett suggested they contact Chris Shoemaker, business development specialist. Shoemaker walked them though Macon County and Small Business Administration (SBA) lending options. Al wanted to stay with local banks; Mike was more flexible.
"Macon County Economic Development told me that there was a business that could use help with the application process and business plan," says Shoemaker. "So I met with Mike and Al. We talked about their business and how they wanted to expand into manufacturing of their specialty items.
"I worked with them on their business plan and helped them prepare the three-year financial pro-forma that's required for a business plan. It took several meetings but we finalized the needed paperwork. I essentially helped them through the process and discussed financial options."
Shoemaker did much more than that, Bennett says. She sees him as the go-to guy for business support in the area.
"He [Shoemaker] is my right-hand man when it comes to business plan writing and support of local small businesses and entrepreneurs," she says. "His background in financial services is just invaluable in working with start-ups. He's thorough in his assessment of businesses and is always careful to make sure clients are comfortable and understand the steps he leads them through. Chris is a great asset to both the SBTDC program and to the Macon County area."
Shoemaker was ultimately able to help the Abbadessas secure a low-interest micro-loan through Macon County Economic Development and another, far larger sum from a local bank.
The Abbadessas have branched out — pun intended — to a less formal restaurant in downtown Macon — AJ's. Think pizza, hamburgers and draft beer versus the Pear Tree's filet mignon, wine and lobster. Both serve and sell Pear Tree dressing, croutons and seasonings; a house salad at AJ's served with your choice of dressing, croutons and cheddar cheese runs only $3. AJ's also serves double ($10) and double-double ($15) cheeseburgers for the culinary adventurous.
The three enterprises together employ about 115 individuals, about five in manufacturing, Abbadessa says. "I have waitresses who have been with us 25, 27 years. People don't leave, and that's because we pay as good a wage as we can."
And good, steady wages are as welcome in Macon as in every other Missouri county.
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This story was featured in the August 2012 newsletter.
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