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When people hear the name Shipshewana, they associate it with Amish craftsmanship, buggies, good food, beautiful quilts, amazing shopping, and most likely at least one of the properties run by the Blue Gate Hospitality Company. Currently that list includes a bakery, a restaurant, a theater, a large Performing Arts Center, carriages, a resort-type hotel, and three retail stores. Combined, they draw a lot of visitors to Shipshewana, and the history of the company is even more impressive when you know it’s all developed over just the last 40 years or so, and that the path was an unpredictable one.

Mel Riegsecker had been trained in his father’s shop to craft hand-made harnesses, but in his free time, he took up carving miniature wooden models, and turned out to be a real talent. The first model of a wagon being pulled by six horses was displayed in his father’s harness shop in the beginning of the 1970’s and was quickly purchased. When Mel found that there were others wanting to purchase his models, he began making them and selling them full-time.

Eventually a Chicago toy store owner asked him if he could produce them in bigger numbers, to be sold in stores. This led to his first expansion, and he opened a small wood shop and hired other talented carvers to help with production. Eventually he noticed that people would gather to watch the craftsman at work, so he purchased and moved to an even larger location, calling it the Shipshewana Craft Barn.

In the mid 80’s Mel and his family added the first small restaurant, in what is now the Blue Gate Theater and Restaurant’s current location. That first restaurant was called Der Strudel Haus and had one dining room with fifty seats, and people loved it. One of the reasons that the family business has come so far is because, in addition to his wood-carving skills, he was also quick to notice trends. He was able to figure out what people were looking for, and then find a way to make that happen, whether it was watching working craftsman create amazing figurines, or sitting down to eat authentic Amish meals.

Improvements and expansions were made over the decades as time, funding, and need allowed, and now the Blue Gate Performing Arts Center and Blue Gate Inn are an integral part of what draws visitors to Shipshewana again and again. If you’d like to see some of the original horse and carriage models that started it all, just stop by the Blue Gate Restaurant, where they’re proudly displayed.

Planning a Trip?
Stop by the Visitor's Center for local tips, referrals, FREE coupon books and visitor's guides. We are located at 350 S Van Buren St.