In the heart of downtown Charlevoix, sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Round Lake, sits Harwood Gold Shop and Café. Featuring marble-topped tables, a tin ceiling, and russet-colored barn wood, the café exudes warmth and hospitality. And the rows of maple syrup-filled bottles lining the walls remind visitors that the centerpiece of this café is maple syrup.
“We’ve been making this maple syrup in our family since 1898,” says Amber Parsons, a fifth-generation owner of Harwood Gold. “Maple syrup is kind of the backbone of our business.”
In elegant script on a blackboard behind the counter, the café’s menu touts its hot hand pies, a customer favorite since the shop and café opened in 2016. The savory treats, stuffed with beef brisket and mushrooms, braised lamb shank, or lentils and vegetables, have become Harwood Gold’s most popular café item, served on mismatched antique plates or served as take-away items, hot or frozen.
Diners can also fill up on hot chili and rich fruit smoothies, freshly baked bars and cookies, locally sourced salad greens, organic, locally roasted coffee, hot teas, and espresso drinks — the latter two can be flavored with maple syrup.
Maple finds its way into every item Harwood Gold sells. “Everything is maple syrup-based,” Parsons says. “Our products are only sweetened using maple syrup; there’s no high-fructose corn syrup, no refined sugars, no emulsifiers, and no preservatives.”
Harwood Gold sells bottles of its pure maple syrup, tapped and processed on the Parsons family farm less than 10 miles away. The café also sells infused maple syrups, including pumpkin spice, vanilla, cinnamon, ghost pepper, bourbon, and coffee bean varieties. Harwood Gold’s popular “Made with Maple” line includes fruit preserves and spreads, maple peanut butter, and farm-style sriracha, which was a Good Food Award 2021 winner. Also sold in the café are maple sugar, cornbread and pancake mixes, maple popcorn, granola, and maple candy.
Harwood Gold traces its roots to the Parsons family farm, established more than a century ago. On the shores of Charlevoix’s Harwood Lake, from which the business takes its name, on a rural road so closely tied to Parsons’ family that it’s called Parsons Road, her great-grandfather George tapped the local trees as a hobby in the late 1800s.
George’s grandson, William, continued the family tradition and made enough syrup for his family and even sold some to friends. Amber Parson’s parents, David (George’s grandson and William’s son) and Terri Parsons, ramped up the business in 2005, formally christening the operation Harwood Gold.
The couple also moved into wholesaling the syrup, and installed an underground network of pipes to direct the sap more efficiently to a processing kitchen.
The business remains a family operation. Amber Parsons owns the Harwood Gold Shop and Café. Sisters Katie and Maria manage the family farm. “We recognized a huge untapped potential for maple products when we took over in 2014,” Amber says.
Katie and Amber immediately expanded the company’s product line to include infused syrups, spreads, and sauces. The three sisters opened the downtown location in 2016 to establish a retail operation for their maple syrup products, and quickly added a café to the store when they realized the need for another coffee shop in Charlevoix.
Harwood Gold’s diverse product line and online presence proved to be a godsend in 2020 and 2021. The business continued to prosper through remote sales when COVID-19 forced the temporary shutdown of its retail shop and café.
While the company continues to do a thriving business through its online and wholesale maple syrup line, the Harwood Gold Shop and Café remains a welcoming and enjoyable mainstay in downtown Charlevoix, and it’s a popular gathering spot in the Lake Michigan resort town.