A look inside the culture of Amish entrepreneurs

“Disney coined the phrase, ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’, but there is just something about walking into a Rise ‘n Roll Bakery that makes you smile.”

So says Vince Banks, co-owner and manager of the newest Rise ‘n Roll Bakery franchise in Warsaw.

When Vince and his wife Nina moved back to Indiana from California, they got a taste of Rise ‘n Roll Bakery at the Nappanee store and fell in love with it.

Known for its melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon caramel donuts and made from scratch Amish goods, the Bakery has seven locations region wide.

The Banks started investigating a franchise about four years ago and, together with two other families, they opened the Warsaw store on Jan. 10.

Attendants use headsets to serve guests at Rise ‘n Roll Bakery.

The grand opening saw a line extending out the door, and no wonder, because Banks says the first 100 guests received free donuts, with the very first in line receiving a dozen each week for a year.

“And a gym membership,” Banks jokes.

The Warsaw store is a showcase for Rise ‘n Roll’s new franchise look, with design elements that can translate to any store in any town or city, hinting at more locations coming soon.

It features a roomy space with plenty of guest seating and a wide variety of baked goods, noodles, crackers, crunch candies (gluten free, by the way), breads, cookies, jar goods, and more.

But what’s interesting about the new setup is that—much like the business itself—it’s a fusion of Amish and “English” (or non-Amish) culture.

Next to a display of Rise ‘n Roll’s history, the business features open vaulted ceilings, modern furnishings, and even technology, like headsets for answering the drive-through.

“The two together make the business sweeter,” says Banks. “You leave something behind if you forget your history.”

Displays at Rise 'n Roll Bakery teach customers about aspects of Amish culture, like biking.

That same respectful blend of Amish and “English” culture is also a defining feature of the LaGrange County business community, in general.

At the February meeting of what they informally call “The Roundtable,” six business people sit around the conference table at Fritz Schlabach’s business, Rock Run Industries, LLC, outside of Millersburg.  

Three are dressed in Amish attire; Three aren’t.

The Roundtable was formed two years ago to encourage dialogue between the Amish and non-Amish business communities.

But conversation at the meeting is hardly different than any other peer-to-peer chats between business owners.

The group discusses common issues—seeking investment capital, delivering goods to customers, getting employees to work on time, and potential partnerships.

Hoofprints of Amish buggies in the parking lot outside Heartland Mattress.

Overall, it’s the same topics discussed whenever entrepreneurs meet.

But there is one noticeable difference.

When they talk about transportation, the Amish companies exchange the names of English companies who provide good contract transportation (to bring employees to work or deliver goods).

Two of the Amish present, Mervin Lehman and Schlabach, are active members of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation board of directors.

As such, they understand the intersection of the Amish and English business communities well.

Like many Amish business owners, Schlabach got his start by seeing an opportunity and filling a need.

To “keep my mind occupied” and stay busy, he had been learning and practicing sandblasting and painting. He told a friend to buy some steel parts pre-painted to save time and money. But his friend found that to be too expensive, so Schlabach learned steel fabrication and started making the parts more affordably himself. 

The production line at Riverside RV.

Today, his business Rock Run Industries employs more than 50 people to make steel and aluminum components for recreational vehicle (RV) manufacturers, and its new automated powder coating assembly line is as modern as they come.

The RV industry is a major employer in LaGrange and Elkhart counties.

When the RV industry is booming, it employs many Amish workers; but when it is down, those employees have to seek other means of supporting themselves.

Lehman knows that down cycle well.

In 2008, the industry declined and unemployment in the county was as high as 17 percent.

So in 2009, Lehman launched Heartland Mattress, LLC, out of necessity. Heartland produces premium quality foam mattress sets. You can have one rolled up and shipped directly to your front door.

The RV industry is a major employer in LaGrange and Elkhart counties.

Although off the electric grid, Heartland, like many Amish owned businesses, uses generators to power modern production equipment.

Heartland is located on N 500 W road outside Shipshewana.

That particular mile of 500 W is a tribute to Amish entrepreneurship, housing eight Amish owned businesses: a residential doors manufacturer, a case goods manufacturer, a welding service, a table manufacturer, a bakery that ships truckloads to Chicago each week, a construction company, a newspaper printer, and Heartland.

Although eight businesses in one mile is particularly dense, it is still common to see businesses throughout rural LaGrange County where you would otherwise expect to see farms.

The Heartland Mattress building on the homestead.

Many businesses in the area are Amish-owned—started either because an opportunity presented itself, or because economic times dictated a shift to self-reliance. Many also supply the RV industry.

Amish and English communities intersect at English-owned companies, too.

Six months after launching Heartland, Lehman was recruited by LaGrange manufacturer Riverside RV, where he serves as general manager.

While Lehman’s brother-in-law runs Heartland, Lehman manages a 200,000 square foot RV production facility. An English-owned business, Riverside employs around 90 people, about 90 percent are Amish.

As multiple cultures have come together in LaGrange County, something special has happened. Banks characterizes it as the relationships among people who respect each other, as well as each other’s culture and heritage.

Lehman calls it community.

“An integral part of our community is community,” Lehman says. “Amish or not Amish, working together for the common good.”

Like many Amish businesses, Heartland Mattress uses generators for electricity.

Schlabach describes it as stewardship. He says growing up in a Christian environment teaches you that money is a gift that enables you to do things, and with that comes responsibility.

"Bigger may not always be better," Schlabach says. "The quality of what you do, your family, and your home life come first.”

So, the next time you visit the market centers of Shipshewana or Nappanee, take time to drive the back roads of Lagrange County, and watch for the small, unassuming signs that humbly announce local businesses you might have never heard about.

While the cultures may be different, the entrepreneurs are the same.

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