Greenfield Mills, the oldest water-powered mill in Indiana, is getting a second chance after customers flooded the mill with pleas to raise raise prices if that’s what it takes to keep the mill open. Greenfield Mills produces New Rinkle flours and pancake mixes. Staff photo by Patrick Redmond
Greenfield Mills, the oldest water-powered mill in Indiana, is getting a second chance after customers flooded the mill with pleas to raise raise prices if that’s what it takes to keep the mill open. Greenfield Mills produces New Rinkle flours and pancake mixes. Staff photo by Patrick Redmond
GREENFIELD MILLS — Greenfield Mills, a historic LaGrange County business, will stay open and already has resumed production, just two weeks after its owner announced he intended to shut down the 160-year-old business.

David Rinkle, owner of Greenfield Mills and its line of New Rinkle flours and pancake mix, apparently never really knew just how much his customers appreciated his products. He said he was overwhelmed by people begging him to stay in operation.

“I was really, really surprised,” Rinkle said with a smile Monday. Customers flooded his mill’s store after he announced the planned shutdown. They bought practically everything that was on the store’s shelves, all the while pleading with Rinkle to not close Greenfield Mills.

“I guess flour is one of those products people kind of take for granted until you start making pies and they don’t turn out,” Rinkle said. “That’s basically what’s happened. So people kind of twisted my arm and said, we want you to continue. And so my wife and I talked about it and decided we can give it another shot, and we’ll see if we can make ends meet.”

Greenfield Mills sits in the northeast corner of LaGrange County, next to a mill pond created when the Fawn River first was dammed. It is the oldest commercial, water-powered mill in the state.

Rinkle, 58, is the fourth generation of his family to own and operate the mill. His great-grandfather, Henry Rinkle, bought the then-60-year-old mill in 1904 and spent the next two years rebuilding it and repairing the dam that provided the mill’s power. In 1906, Rinkle produced his first batch of “New Wrinkle Flour.” The “W” was later dropped from the product name.

In 1924, Henry Rinkle modernized the old mill, installing a 125-watt hydroelectric generator to power the mill’s equipment. He also created what would become the state’s smallest power utility. In addition to powering the mill, the utility provides the electricity to power 11 local homes and a couple of barns.

Dave Rinkle said he learned the miller’s art from his grandfather, George Rinkle, Henry’s son. Like everyone one else in his family, Rinkle worked in the mill after school next to his grandfather and father. His son and daughter now work with him in the mill.

The mill produces both pastry and bread flour, as well as certified organic whole wheat and white pastry flour. Rinkle also mills pure buckwheat flour, graham flour, yellow and white corn meal, wheat bran and buckwheat hulls, as well as a variety of different pancake mixes.

Shutting down an icon is apparently easier said than done. Demand for the mill’s products has been high.

“The pastry flour, there’s a huge demand right now, the bread flour is running a close second, pancake mix third,” he said.

Rinkle said he spent most of the last two weeks talking to people who were trying to convince him to keep the business open. One man associated with local Scouting said that Scout fundraising pancake breakfasts, many of which seem to use New Rinkle pancake mix, might not be able to continue without the mill. Even commercial bakeries put people on the phone to beg Rinkle to reconsider his decision.

“We had such an overwhelming response to the news that the mill would be closing, that we started thinking about it a little bit more,” Rinkle said. “Basically everybody told me in the last two weeks that they’d rather we go up a little in price and continue in business than to quit.”

One LaGrange County bakery told Rinkle it could not find a suitable replacement for New Rinkle pastry flour.

“They told us they’d tried five different kinds of flour and couldn’t come close to the results they got with our flour,” he said.

Demand for other Greenfield Mills products, such as its Hearts of Wheat cereal, also was high. The LaGrange County business is one of the few remaining mills to produce the iconic breakfast food. Rinkle said customers as far away as New York and California contacted him after he announced he was shutting down, wanting to buy any remaining stock.

“I had a guy call me from California who just went ballistic when he read we were closing down the mill and was worried he was never going to have Hearts of Wheat cereal again,” Rinkle explained. “He said he would take as much as I could produce, a couple hundred pounds, just to store it so he’ll have it.”

Many of the mill’s visitors have arrived not only looking to buy flour, but willing to discuss with Rinkle plans to stay open and offer a little advice. One popular suggestion is to create a list of people, both professional bakers as well as home cooks, willing to attest to how much they like New Rinkle products, and that Rinkle promote pictures of those people alongside a bag of New Rinkle flour.

“Yeah, instead of Betty Crocker, you could have have Betty Yoder,” one suggested with a laugh.

Rinkle said he had to raise his prices to continue operating.

“We have to, to make sure we cover the costs, and so prices are up a little bit, but not extensively,” he said.

The mill’s future still isn’t secure, but Rinkle said he will keep the business open as long as he can.

“I talked to so many people in the last two weeks, that’s what surprised me. This isn’t the same as a big mill. I deliver the stuff myself. And they’re not just customers, but friends,” he explained. “They knew I was producing the best I could — it’s a tough world to compete with all these major brands — but try calling one of them with a complaint sometime. If there’s a problem with one of my mixes, it’sgoing to be replaced right on the spot or you’re going to get your money back. If there’s a problem in the store, it gets taken care the minute I walk in the store, no questions asked.”

So far, no one has complained about the new prices for Greenfield Mills products.

“I just figured if I overpriced it (New Rinkle flour), I wasn’t going to have the sale, so I was always super cautious about raising the price,” Rinkle said. “I just got to point didn’t feel I could raise the prices and still be be competitive. It’s always nice to be proven wrong.”

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