By KAYLEEN REUSSER For The News-Sentinel
For Barbara Nolt, the restaurant that her family runs outside Grabill has been more than a business for the past 20 years. “It was God-sent,” she said.
Barbara and her family are members of the Old Order Amish. She and her husband, David, have been married since 1979. The story of how they met and how Nolt’s Family Dinner Haus came to be is one for the romance books.Barbara was 32 years old and the mother of three children when her husband, age 34, died of a heart attack.
This was in the late 1970s. According to daughter Naomi Lengacher, 6 years old at the time, her mother didn’t believe she would ever marry again. “There were only two Amish churches in the area then,” said Lengacher. She added that there are now 30 Amish churches in the area around Grabill.
Two years after becoming a widow, Barbara met David Nolt. The Decatur resident was not Amish but was hired by the Amish to drive them places because their religion forbids owning vehicles. They also are not allowed to have their photos taken.
Barbara and David fell in love. David chose to join the Amish culture after the couple decided to marry. “He was kind to my children, and God told me he was OK,” said Barbara.
Naomi remembered how life changed. Her mother had always been known as an excellent cook. Barbara began preparing meals for groups several nights a week.
In 1997 Barbara received a license to open a restaurant in what had been their family’s carriage house. “We added a kitchen and banquet room that seats 80, so we can seat 160 in the whole place,” said Naomi. She and her husband, Joe, and their five children live a short distance away. They and a crew of six employees help Barbara, now 73, manage the restaurant. David, 80, lends a hand peeling potatoes.
These days Barbara might be out in the dining room more than in the kitchen, but the quality of foodstuffs has not changed. The menus are full of taste and texture with a salad bar, two types of meats, mashed potatoes, gravy, noodles, homemade bread and desserts like blackberry sundaes, fresh peach pie and homemade ice cream. The featured menus change each week, but fried chicken is often on the menu because the entree is well-known for its light, crispy skin.
Some repeat customers have become like family. Barbara, dressed in a white cap covering her hair pinned up in a bun and a solid-color cotton dress nearly reaching her ankles, may sit with them to chat near the end of the evening. She encourages every diner to sign her guest book, which she often peruses. “I like to see where our guests are from,” she said.
Another item she proudly displays in the restaurant – a doily in the shape of a cross – was made by a friend who used to have a risky lifestyle. “She turned her life around and promised God she’d live for Him, and she’s done that,” said Barbara. The friend appreciated Barbara’s encouragement so much that she gave the Amish woman the doily. Barbara framed it and the attractive artwork hangs near the register as a testament of the owner’s faith and mission. “This is a place where God is at,” Barbara said.
Grabill Country Fair
There’s a once-a-year bonus nearby if you visit Nolt’s Family Dinner Haus this weekend. The Grabill Country Fair begins today and runs through Saturday. The whole town seems to be involved with attractions ranging from craft demonstrations to arm-wrestling contests, rides in buggies or helicopters, rustic musicians, chainsaw carving, a pet parade, a baby crawl and a watermelon-eating contest. For details and a schedule, see www.grabillcountryfair.org.
Nolt’s Family Dinner Haus
• 12530 Cuba Road, Grabill
• Open 4-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Cash or check only.
• Call 409-5547 or 403-5960