Owners and partners for The Barns at Nappanee, Home of Amish Acres, gathered for a photo after a press conference Wednesday. Pictured (L to R) are, on the left side of the sign: John Coates, Legacy Theatre Group; Bethany Crawford, Legacy Theatre Group; Gabe Rivera, director of Legacy Theatre Group; Wendy Rivera, Legacy Theatre Group; Mayor Phil Jenkins, Nappanee; Christy Stutzman, Legacy Theatre Group; Marlin Stutzman, co-owner; on the right side of the sign: Jason Bontrager, co-owner; Mark McDonnell, CEO and founder of LaSalle Hospitality Group; Tom Sheridan, LaSalle Hospitality Group chef; Casey Dvorak, LaSalle Hospitality Group executive chef; Laurel Marnocha, LaSalle Hospitality Group director of catering and special projects; Jeff Kitson, Nappanee Chamber of Commerce executive director. Photo by Denise Fedorow.
Owners and partners for The Barns at Nappanee, Home of Amish Acres, gathered for a photo after a press conference Wednesday. Pictured (L to R) are, on the left side of the sign: John Coates, Legacy Theatre Group; Bethany Crawford, Legacy Theatre Group; Gabe Rivera, director of Legacy Theatre Group; Wendy Rivera, Legacy Theatre Group; Mayor Phil Jenkins, Nappanee; Christy Stutzman, Legacy Theatre Group; Marlin Stutzman, co-owner; on the right side of the sign: Jason Bontrager, co-owner; Mark McDonnell, CEO and founder of LaSalle Hospitality Group; Tom Sheridan, LaSalle Hospitality Group chef; Casey Dvorak, LaSalle Hospitality Group executive chef; Laurel Marnocha, LaSalle Hospitality Group director of catering and special projects; Jeff Kitson, Nappanee Chamber of Commerce executive director. Photo by Denise Fedorow.
NAPPANEE – A large crowd gathered Wednesday in the lobby of Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre for a press conference called by new owners Marlin Stutzman, Jason Bontrager and John Kruse to announce the new name, partners and their vision moving forward.

The men were high bidders on the centerpiece of the properties auctioned off Feb. 5.

Members of the Pletcher Family were on hand for the press conference, as well as Nappanee city officials and representatives from Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Northern Indiana  Tourism.

Before unveiling the new name, co-owner Marlin Stutzman said they thought a long time about the name and really considered, “How do we honor the legacy of Amish Acres while also looking toward the future and continue to be the spot people come to?”

With the Pletchers’ blessing, they decided on The Barns at Nappanee, “Home of Amish Acres,” and said the Round Barn Theatre is such an icon they wanted to make that the focus.

Stutzman praised the Pletcher family for preserving the barns in such great condition and said they will still give tours of the homestead. He and Bontrager (Kruse was unable to be present) wanted to introduce their partners in this new venture – The Legacy Theatre Group for the theatre operations and LaSalle Hospitality Group for the dining operations.

Keeping with Amish Acre’s normal schedule, they plan to open Easter weekend, Mother’s Day weekend and for the season Memorial Day weekend, putting them on a fast track to get up and running.

Theatre Operations

Stutzman’s wife, Christy, and her family have a long theater background and she will be working closely with the Legacy Theatre Group, including Director Gabe Rivera, his wife (and Christy’s sister) Wendy, writer-director Bethany Crawford from Florida and performer Doug Stroup from Georgia, who also has a TV and film production company.

Rivera shared their immediate vision for the theater, which he said wanted to keep the legacy of repertory theater, quality of shows and professionalism while at the same time offer new shows.

“We see an opportunity with the gifts of the team we’ve brought together to identify stories people want to see and bring original productions, adding a new dimension,” he said. “We’re very excited and we’re not doing away with the old but adding a new addition – just like Dick (Pletcher) has done for years.”

Rivera said he was now free to announce that the first show will be held Easter weekend with a production of “Acts — The Three Man Show,” based on the Biblical book of Acts of the Apostles. Showings will be Good Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. A meal will be served before each show. The box office will be open soon for reservations and patrons shouldn’t expect “sticker shock” as Rivera said the prices should be comparable to what they’re used to paying.

Rivera also said, “We’re proud to announce we’re doing an honorary farewell send-off of ‘Plain and Fancy.’”

He said they wanted to offer that one more time but “hopefully it’ll be like no one’s ever seen.” “Plain and Fancy” has run continuously at Amish Acres since the theater began.

Wendy Rivera added that her sister not only sings but is also a composer and works often with well-known orchestrator John Coates. “We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to let that shine and that our original productions will showcase Indiana’s own Christy Stutzman,” she said.

LaSalle Farm & Table

Stutzman introduced Mark McDonnell, founder and CEO of LaSalle Hospitality Group, and said they began talking soon after the auction and felt they had the same vision and ideas.

McDonnell quipped that he was following a politician and an actor, and shared that the Pletchers were regulars at LaSalle Grille in South Bend over the last 29 years.

“We’ve long wanted to become a part of Elkhart County and we’re very excited that will be here in Nappanee and we’re very impressed with the traffic here,” McDonnell said.

“We plan to offer some of the traditional menu items that made Amish Acres famous as well as updated items similar to what we offer at South Bend,” he said.

McDonnell said they plan to convert a portion of the dining room in the main barn into LaSalle Farm and Table, offering a lot of farm to table items making use of locally sourced ingredients and a seasonal menu.  He said the local team will include his daughter, Laurel Marnocha, director of catering and special events, Executive Chef Casey Dvorak and Chef Tom Sheridan and Nate Barnett.

He also announced a job fair would be held at the Round Barn lobby Thursday evening and he said they expect and hope many past employees will return. “We want some continuity,” he said.

Stutzman said weddings will also be a big feature of the Barns at Nappanee. “Barns are a popular venue for weddings and these are a perfect fit,” he said.

Stutzman told the crowd gathered that he brought his wife Christy to the Round Barn Theatre the night he proposed to her.

Bontrager spoke to the crowd about how his background with his family’s former business, Jayco, prepared him for the business investments he’s now involved in.

He said he joined Stutzman and Kruse three years ago. “We’re three guys with similar belief system and morals and like things of high quality. We felt this property exemplifies that,” he said.

He added that they felt it was a good opportunity for them to get involved in and they like to help businesses remain in Indiana.

Nappanee Officials Pleased

Mayor Phil Jenkins said, “We are super excited about the opportunities to work with the partners they put together and the quality of the programming in the theater and the quality of the dining — there are lots of opportunities here to expand on what the Pletchers have built here.”

Shortly after the unveiling, Jenkins shared that the community was very concerned with the news of Amish Acres closing, but when faced with challenges the community looks for opportunities and this is one of those opportunities.

Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce Jeff Kitson said it was the second best thing that happened this week – his daughter Riley was a freshman on the state championship NorthWood basketball team.

“Seeing how they are going to honor Amish Acres, now the Barns at Nappanee, is absolutely wonderful news for the community and the county,” Kitson said, adding that he can’t stop smiling as he thinks about how they’re going to continue to build on what the Pletchers have built for 50 years.

Jenni Wysong, Dick and Suzy Pletcher’s daughter, spoke for the family, saying, “We are ecstatic. We feel it is a family environment and they’re energetic, smart, creative and dedicated souls who will make wonderful stewards of this historic place.”