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August 20, 2004   Email to Friend 

Apple Lane Farms Puts New Twist On Classic Southern Ham
Jeff Helms

Zane Mattox, left, and Donnie Lane, right, own and operate Apple Lane Farms where they sell and serve honey-glazed hams and turkey breasts.
In a renovated fruit stand at the edge of a cotton field near Decatur, entrepreneurs Donnie Lane and Zane Mattox are adding a new twist to classic, hickory-smoked hams. In fact, folks who've sampled the partners' overstuffed sandwiches filled with honey-glazed meat say lunchtime at Apple Lane Farms is like being in hog heaven.

That's exactly the reaction Lane hoped to get when he opened his business seven years ago. Nowadays, Apple Lane Farms sells close to 20,000 hams a year at stores in Decatur, Madison and Huntsville.

But financial success and happy customers weren't the only reasons Lane decided to step out on faith and open a spiral-sliced ham store. He also wanted a place where he could teach his children the appreciation for hard work he learned growing up on a beef cattle farm in Morgan County. "One thing my dad did for my brother and me was he had us work on the farm," Lane said. "He didn't work us to death, but he taught us how to work. Knowing how to work and how to work hard has really helped me in my business."

Ironically, Lane's father, Vernon, started the business that inadvertently led to his son opening Apple Lane Farms. In 1996, Donnie Lane was working in Decatur at Mid-South Testing, an environmental analysis laboratory founded by his father. He had been buying spiral-sliced hams from a local store to give to clients during the holiday season. But when the ham store in Decatur closed, Lane was forced to drive to Huntsville to buy his Christmas gifts.

While standing in line at the The Honey Baked Ham Co., Lane took an informal survey of his fellow customers and discovered about half were from Decatur. The more he thought about that experience, the more convinced he became that a ham store could prosper in his hometown.

So in July 1997, Lane traveled to Michigan to meet the owner of a honey-glazed ham company. Lane was so impressed, he paid the man to teach him the twists and turns involved in making and marketing spiral-sliced hams. He returned home, and on Dec. 12, 1997, Lane and his wife, Dianne, opened Apple Lane Farms in a remodeled fruit stand located a half mile west of the I-65/I-565 interchange. They sold about 600 hams that first year, and the following year, they hired Tena Threet to manage the store.

In 1999, Lane formed a partnership with Zane Mattox, who had previously managed one of the Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q restaurants. Since joining Apple Lane Farms, Mattox has helped expand the restaurant's menu and open new store locations.

Threet also made a special contribution to the business--a creamy banana-pudding that's won the Taste of the Valley dessert competition three years in a row.

In addition to banana pudding, Apple Lane Farms sells homemade pies. Their sandwiches are stuffed with 6 ounces of honey-glazed ham, turkey, roast beef or chicken--and all are served on fresh-baked yeast rolls. Apple Lane Farms also offers party trays as well as whole hams and turkey breasts.

"Our ham is slow cooked for 24 hours using hickory smoke, and we glaze it with honey and a (signature) spice blend. Then we spiral slice it on a patented machine," Lane said. "We take an ordinary product like ham and make something extraordinary out of it."

Apple Lane Farms will ship spiral-sliced hams and turkeys anywhere, and they deliver lunch orders of $50 or more. Call (256) 351-7803 or visit www.applelanefarms.com.

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