Restaurant News & Reviews

Like and share: How Knaus Berry Farm used social media to spread sticky-bun love

Thomas Blocher takes pictures with his cell phone of his cinnamon rolls so that they can be shared on social media as a means of connecting with customers and other potential kitchen collaborators.
Thomas Blocher takes pictures with his cell phone of his cinnamon rolls so that they can be shared on social media as a means of connecting with customers and other potential kitchen collaborators.

Thomas Blocher of Knaus Berry Farm hated social media.

“I got on it and thought, ‘This is weird. This is like stalking. This is so stupid,’ ” he said.

But it was social media — and South Florida’s love of Knaus Berry Farm’s sticky buns — that sparked tasty collaborations with several Miami homegrown chefs at Miami Smokers, The Salty Donut and Azucar Ice Cream.

An escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Redland’s Knaus Berry Farm has etched a place in the memories of Miami natives such as Miami Smokers co-founder James Bowers. Every year of Bowers’ childhood was marked with a trek from Kendall to Knaus Berry Farm.

“My parents would get their breadsticks that they make and the herb bread and trays and trays of cinnamon buns and bring them home, freeze them and that’s what Sunday breakfast would be, you know? Bacon and cinnamon buns,” he said.

Decades later, that same combination — bacon and cinnamon buns — would inspire his Bacon Cinnamon Roll, the first of three reimagined treats using the classic Knaus Berry Farm sticky bun.

The Bacon Cinnamon Roll happened on a whim, Blocher remembers. He was scrolling through Knaus Berry Farm’s Instagram account and kept seeing Miami Smokers.

“I like bacon,” Blocher said. “I saw them and said ‘Hey guys, I think our cinnamon rolls would be good with your bacon.’ And so they came down.”

Now you can find their Bacon Cinnamon Roll both at the farm and at Miami Smokers. Bowers was eating one at his Little Havana charcuterie shop on a Tuesday before the lunch crowd arrived. It’s made from dough at the Knaus Berry Farm but has a smoky flavor and bits of ground bacon in every layer.

Between bites, Bowers chuckled like that same little boy waiting in line for sticky buns.

“It was cool to see because they’re like an institution in Miami, you know?” Bowers said.

For the record, Blocher, 61, who married Susan Knaus in 1980, says the family business isn’t much different from what it was when Ray and Russell Knaus founded it in 1956, he said. The business grew by word of mouth — and now, by likes and clicks.

You can see it in the farm’s social feeds. Knaus Berry Farm has been on Instagram since Feb. 16, 2013. Since then, it has gained more than 12,000 followers. On Facebook, it has more than 38,000 likes.

Still, interacting with thousands of people on social media isn’t that different from serving people on the farm, Blocher said. In either situation he’s excited to see people happy.

“Did you see how many people we have following us on Facebook?” he said with a hearty chuckle. “We’re almost 40,000. And I was excited when we got to like 1,200. I couldn’t believe it. And it’s like 40,000, where are these people at? It’s pretty cool.”

The man who once despised Facebook is now the farm’s de facto social media manager, although he admits he has no media strategy.

“We’re not that smart,” he joked.

That didn’t stop him from reaching out to other businesses owners, such as Andy Rodriguez, 29, a co-founder of The Salty Donut.

When Rodriguez received a direct Instagram message from Blocher about collaborating on a sweet treat, he thought, “What the hell? Who doesn’t like Knaus Berry Farm?”

The Wynwood doughnut shop introduced its limited-edition Sticky Bun Donut a few months later. Salty Donut pastry chef Max Santiago tucked the Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon roll inside a brioche bun and smothered it in toffee sauce, pecans and sugar, an homage to his childhood favorite.

Suzy Batlle, 48, of Azucar in Little Havana, is also a lifelong fan of Knaus Berry Farm. She created Bourbon and Buns ice cream in 2015 by marinating the cinnamon rolls in bourbon whiskey, then mixing chunks of the pastries into bourbon ice cream. It, too, was born of an exchange with Blocher on social media. She has brought the ice cream back every year since, while the cinnamon rolls are available.

“It becomes like an authentic Miami experience,” Batlle said. “It’s a fun way of eating it now. It brings me back to my childhood very quickly, and it makes me smile.”

Blocher is proud that he has been able to link the quiet, family farm with exciting new collaborations that instill nostalgia in the city.

“Food brings people together, and that’s the cool thing,” he said. “We can have our differences, but we can sit down at a table and eat something and … still enjoy it and enjoy each other.”

Knaus Berry Farm has partnered with three South Florida shops to create twists on its sticky buns. Here’s where to find them:

Azucar Ice Cream

Bourbon & Buns available through mid-April

1503 SW Eighth St., Miami

Miami Smokers

Bacon Cinnamon Rolls — limited supply

306 NW 27th Ave., Miami

The Salty Donut

Sticky Bun Donuts available through Sunday

50 NW 23rd St. #112 Miami