Growing up on a farm near Middlebury in the heart of Northern Indiana’s Amish region, Mel Riegsecker crafted six miniature horses hitched to a wagon based upon what he learned from his father, an Amish harness maker who had taught him all the skills needed for his trade. The miniature was detail perfect and finely wrought, with harnesses, bridles and flowing manes. His proud father placed it in his harness shop, intending to showcase his son’s hard work and talent but when someone asked to purchase the horse and wagon, and others asked young Riegsecker to make more, he soon found himself busy keeping up with the demand. It was a situation that only exacerbated when the department store giant Montgomery Ward asked Riegsecker to make them to sell in their Chicago stores.
It didn’t take long for Riegsecker to set up a business with other Amish artisan crafters helping with the orders, first in a workshop next door to his country home and then, in 1984, in an old factory located at the four ways stop in the small farming community of Shipshewana.
Visitors not only wanted Riegsecker’s miniatures, they also wanted to watch the scaled models of horses, carriages, wagons and buggies being crafted and so after renovating the factory, visitors could stop by the Shipshewana Craft Barn was watch the artisans at work. Visitors also wanted a place to eat. And so in the mid 1980s, Riegsecker and his family opened the Blue Gate, a 50-seat, one dining room restaurant which quickly grew into two dining rooms capable of seating 105 people at a time.
Now, the Blue Gate Marketplace’s restaurant features seven dining rooms with a 750-seat capacity where platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken and noodles and house made desserts fly out the kitchen door carried by waitresses in Amish garb. Also here is a large bustling bakery with shelves and display cases stocked with pies (they offer 29 different types including their bestselling lemon meringue), freshly made noodles, cookies, breads as well as Amish made jams, jellies and fruit butters and their signature Amish peanut butter spread– a sweet concoction of peanut butter mixed with syrup and marshmallow cream.
“People have always looked for evening entertainment in Shipshewana and we’re really driven by what people want,” says Andrew Rohrer, director of marketing for Riegseckers, Inc. “In 2000 we started doing our own variety shows.”
Like everything else at this Amish destination, demand meant more. And so in 2003 the Riegseckers began offering live theater, comedy, musicians, gospel concerts and special events all year long at both the Blue Gate Theater above the restaurant at the Blue Gate Market Place and for larger venues at the Blue Gate Theater at the nearby Shipshewana Town Center.
“We have 270 shows and concerts a year including two main musicals both based on New York Times best sellers,” says Rohrer. “One is by Beverly Lewis and the other Wanda Brunstetter.”
National acts such as Diamond REO, Amy Grant, Ricky Skaggs and Ray Stevens have performed in at the 750-seat Blue Gate Theater which last year was visited by 60,000 people. The Charlie Daniels Band, Ronnie Millsap and the Gaitlin Brothers are also slated to play in the near future.
“We’re perfect for people looking for safe, friendly, interesting shopping and entertainment,” says Rohrer, “as well as great food.”
Blue Gate Marketplace, 195 North Van Buren Street, Shipshewana, Indiana. 260-768-4725, www.riegsecker.com