Never underestimate the power of a well-timed Instagram reel. Or the winning combination of alpacas and coffee. Or a child's Christmas wish. Or random acts of kindness, for that matter.
Rosie Mae's Alpaca Farm & Boutique, located down a winding country road in Wildwood, Georgia, offers customers a unique experience — enjoying a cup of fresh, locally roasted coffee while feeding and petting alpacas. Owners Max and Meagan Lewis said that, since it opened in November of 2022, the farm has steadily attracted about 50 to 100 customers on any given Saturday.
But the game changed when Hope Maum visited this spring. On April 15, Maum, founder of Experience Chattanooga guided tours, shared a reel about Rosie Mae's on her Instagram page.
"That next weekend, we had about 500 to 600 people per day," Maegen Lewis said in a telephone interview. "We had cars parking all down the roads, up in our neighbor's parking areas — everywhere. It was crazy."
Now, a month later, Maum's video continues climbing. As of Tuesday, the reel has more than 1 million views, 38,000 likes and 340 comments.
Also during Maum's visit, she and the Lewises discovered they'd known each other their whole lives growing up in the Chattanooga area, through mutual family friends.
"It's been really exciting watching all this attention this has brought them," Maum said. "Now, we stay in touch through texting and are kind of celebrating together."
But while the boom in business was great, the Lewises said they are thankful that crowds have tapered off from those huge numbers. Sales are still up; but now, customers can enjoy themselves, interact with the animals and have the space they need to order coffee and shop the boutique.
Also, Max Lewis added, there was another act of kindness that helped Rosie Mae's build its customer base, prior to the Instagram reel.
"It's a crazy story," he said. He was talking with a customer one afternoon, who loved the concept of the shop. The customer mentioned he was getting ready to order signs for his own business and offered to order some extras for Rosie's — at no charge.
"He got them made and put them out for us, out of the kindness of his heart," Lewis said. "He completely changed our lives from just a small gesture of getting signs made. It all stemmed from that.
"And then Hope saw those signs, and that's what brought her here."
The idea for the petting farm originated in December 2019, when the couple's first child and the shop's namesake, Rosie Mae (now 6 years old and big sister to Sparrow, 5 months) made a Christmas wish for pet alpacas. The Lewises didn't say yes, but they didn't say no either — instead striking a compromise with a trip to visit some alpacas at a nearby farm.
But then, after spending time with the furry, hooved creatures themselves, Max and Maegen Lewis softened to the idea of having alpacas as pets. And in April of 2020, Rosie Mae got her wish when the family brought home its first three animals.
"We didn't have a barn or anything at that time, so we got to work on that," said Max Lewis, who works as an electrician for the Tennessee Valley Authority and describes himself as "someone who can't sit still." So, over the course of about two years, working on nights and weekends, Lewis constructed all that customers see when they visit the farm — the coffee shop and boutique, the barns and the fenced-in pasture areas.
Maegan Lewis' goal with the boutique is to offer "one-stop shopping" for special occasions like baby showers, housewarmings and weddings. The café portion sells pastries and coffee drinks (roasted by Mean Mug), named after the seven alpacas living at the farm. Visitors stopping by this June may get an extra "Instagram-worthy" experience, as two of the alpacas are pregnant and expected to give birth soon.
And as for Rosie Mae? Like her father, the 6-year-old is known for being constantly on the move. She is always running and jumping and climbing the fenced-in areas to be close with the animals.
"I think they think she's an alpaca," Maegan Lewis said. "She's just one of them. We do home schooling, and we sit out there with them and do homework a lot. ... They just make her calm."
IF YOU GO
The farm is at 550 Old Birmingham Highway in Wildwood, Georgia, about 15 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For additional details, call 423-645-6002 or search for Rosie Mae's Alpaca Farm & Boutique on Facebook or Instagram.
Contact Jennifer McNalley at email@example.com.