Making a Garden Out of the Ashes
Writer / Marcia Vigren . Photographer / Izzybug Photography
Walk into the home sitting confidently on the hill in the estate known at Geist Nursery, and you enter a contrast of new and old, tragic and inspiring, loss and gain. So too are the lives that inhabit this building.
Meet Andrew and Whitney Klein. They live and work here along with Whitney’s parents, Fred and Sarah Richwine, who own the property and the landscape business. The home is believed to have been the Mollenkopf property back in the late 1800s and was lovingly restored by Fred after he acquired it in 1977. All of this effort was lost when it suffered a tragic electrical fire in December 2010, burning all but one small section to the ground. The grief of losing their valuables, sentimental items and two pets wore off when they realized how blessed they were to escape the fire alive. They started to rebuild, keeping the general home structure similar to the old one, but adding improvements like a basement. Now, with the old surviving section as the entryway, the new house is fresh, beautiful and historic, all in one.
Like the house, Andrew and Whitney have suffered their share of setbacks but have rebuilt and improved. They were living the American Dream in Broad Ripple with Andrew working as an executive sushi chef at Kona Grill and Whitney working at Geist Nursery and the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Then, in 2009, while preparing for Kona’s presence at Zoobilation, Andrew had numbness in his hands, tingles in his legs and severe back pain. One day, he suddenly had trouble keeping his balance and walking. He was told that he should go home, but on the way to his car, he was stopped by police who told him that he wasn’t fit to drive, thinking he’d had too much to drink. The next morning, he couldn’t feel his feet or legs and certainly couldn’t walk. Two weeks of tests in the hospital confirmed that Andrew had Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a neurological disorder in which the myelin sheath that protects the nerves is attacked by a person’s own antibodies.
“When I was in the hospital, the first neurologist came in and told me I’d never walk again. I stared her straight in the face and said, ‘You get out of here and send me a different doctor,’” said Andrew. “Dr. Stroble came in and said, ‘I like your attitude,’ and started me on physical therapy. The beginning of therapy was just trying to get my baby toe to move. Finally it twitched, and then I tried to get the second to move.”
He stayed in the hospital another two-and-a-half months, working longer and harder than most in physical therapy until he was able to walk again. Andrew accomplished rising from being bedridden to using a wheelchair to walking out of the hospital with a walker in a short three months. He credits the support of his family, friends and parents, Gina and John Klein, who moved back from Florida to help with his recovery.
He was “rebuilding after the fire.”
After suffering a relapse in May 2014 from the stress of then being the executive sous chef at Flemings, Andrew decided, with much coaxing from his neurologist, to leave his job. After three months of recovery, he decided to start his own catering company, and No Coast Cuisine was born. They cater corporate lunches, private dinners, events and weddings and even provide wellness cooking for those with illness or special dietary needs. To couple that, they started hosting more weddings on the property with beautiful, shabby chic country receptions in the barn. His most recent labor of love is renovating the 1973 Airstream trailer he acquired to make it an “onsite-catering kitchen.” They may even go so far as to one day participate in First Friday Food Trucks.
Like the fire, after grieving the loss of the life that he once knew, they all found gratitude in the fact that his form of MS was not progressive but rather “relapse and remitting,” meaning he would suffer relapses but be able to recover from them with some effort. Also they are in awe of the medical advances being made on this illness. For instance, Andrew takes an injection every day that mimics the myelin sheath, decoying the antibodies from attacking his nerves. Mostly, they give thanks for their now 4-year-old son, Levi, they were still able to give birth to after Andrew’s MS diagnosis. This gratitude led them both to walk in the MS Walk, held in April, for the last five years. That’s right, Andrew walks for this cause. “MS doesn’t define me,” he said. “I define my MS.”
Whitney, who grew up in the house, and Andrew believe this was all part of the bigger plan. “Our path led us here,” said Whitney. “We moved to Colorado and moved back here. We tried to open a sushi restaurant in Broad Ripple and then moved back here. We roll with it and look for the good.”
Andrew and Whitney seem to work together as one unit, along with Whitney’s parents. Their businesses are well run because of the special complementary talents they each possess. Fred owns the landscaping business and garden center and brings years of experience along with a quality work ethic. Whitney has a design background that lends itself to decorating the barn for weddings and reorganizing the garden center to give it some “street presence.” Her brilliant mind and hospitable nature are invaluable in all aspects of the business. Andrew, who taps into the 25 years of his family’s catering and restaurant experience, has the culinary skills to prepare quality meals for all occasions made from his own garden. They all live together in the house, sharing babysitting, chores and handyman duties.
It is the house, like the lives in it, that burned down to the ground and, with an abundance of hard work and love, was rebuilt to its current glory and purpose.
For more information about No Coast Cuisine and Catering, visit facebook.com/nocoastcuisine or email them at email@example.com.
For more information about Geist Nursery Garden Center and landscaping, visit geistnursery.com.