South Blend Café
Story Ted Yoakum
Photography Wes Jerdon
What’s better than starting your morning with a piping hot cup of fragrant black coffee nestled in one hand and a hearty waffle-bacon-cheddar sandwich — drenched in maple syrup, of course — in the other?
How about enjoying all that while chilling inside an integral fixture of South Bend’s past?
Located on the first floor of the nearly century-old LaSalle building, South Blend Café serves up breakfast and lunch favorites, with a slice of history on the side. The morning hotspot is located in the exact space a popular coffee shop once occupied during the heyday of the Hotel LaSalle, says owner Amy Bratzler.
“I’ve always found South Bend history really interesting, and here we are, in the spot where it all started,” Amy says. “It’s like bringing everything full circle.”
Amy was among those in on the ground floor when development firm RealAmerica Companies restored the 1921 nine-story structure into a 67-unit upscale apartment complex nearly four years ago.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the LaSalle played an important role in South Bend’s past. Not only was the hotel one of downtown’s first significant destinations, but it was built on the site of an important trading post back when fur traders began settling the area centuries ago.
Before starting South Blend, Amy — a veteran of the food industry business with nearly three decades of experience under her belt — managed the Café at the Overlook, a popular eatery located across from Notre Dame.
In the summer of 2017, a local property broker approached her and asked if she would consider opening a coffee shop on the lower level of the restored LaSalle. Amy leaped at the offer, becoming the first retailer to lease space in the recently opened apartment building.
Construction on the shop began that fall. Amy strived to capture the historic character of the building and the former coffee shop where her establishment would eventually stand, including retaining the space’s old flooring, she says.
Since opening its doors in May 2018, South Blend has quickly established itself as a favorite place for locals to grab a quick bite for breakfast or lunch, or simply to relax, sip on a cup of joe and enjoy the fantastic view of the nearby St. Joseph River, Amy says.
Like at the Overview, South Blend’s menu features a variety of paninis and oven-baked sandwiches. Some of the offerings sport catchy names, such as the Dictator, the restaurant’s take on the classic Cuban, featuring ham, pork carnitas, cilantro relish, poblano mustard and baby swiss.
The kitchen also offers a selection of thin-crust personal pizzas made using an assortment of different sauces and toppings. The menu also includes “Make It Your Way” tacos, burritos and nachos, made using the customer’s choice of traditional Mexican, southern barbecue or Asian flavorings.
Diners can also grab a cup or bowl of the kitchen’s soups of the day, made entirely from scratch, Amy says.
Breakfast, however, is where South Blend’s menu shines. Thankfully, the kitchen is happy to whip up morning time favorites any time of the day, which is a massive part of the restaurant’s appeal, Amy says.
In addition to serving traditional breakfast fare like biscuits and gravy and eggs Benedict, the kitchen allows customers to order custom-made breakfast sandwiches. Diners can select their choice of bread, meat, raw or sautéed veggies, cheese and sauces, with each sandwich topped off with two or more fried eggs.
Those in the know can also order some dishes from South Blend’s hidden menu — including an old favorite from the Overview, the Hangover Cure. The aptly-named sandwich consists of two waffles, bacon and cheddar cheese, smothered in a generous helping of rich sausage gravy.
“It’s sweet, salty, savory — the whole works,” Amy says.
Customers can enjoy their hearty meal with a hot cup of drip coffee, a rich and thick espresso, or any of the restaurant’s other choices of caffeinated beverages, made using beans from Uncommon Coffee Roasters.
SOUTH BLEND is located at 237 N. Michigan St. in South Bend, Indiana. The café is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, go to southblendcafe.com or look them up on Facebook.
Story Ambrosia Neldon
Photography Wes Jerdon
Through a wall of windows in the Benton Harbor Arts District, tables topped with espresso drinks and vegan pastries are typically surrounded by people hard at work.
Whether students studying for college classes or freelancers utilizing the space as a temporary office, The Phoenix is designed with these workers in mind.
“We’re trying to serve as a community space down here,” says Japhy Bartlett, current owner of The Phoenix, a coffee shop in the Benton Harbor Arts District. “We have good seating and remote hours, and people can come hang out without necessarily buying things.”
While the latter part of that sentence may come as a surprise from the mouth of a business owner, Japhy knows better than most the importance of creating community space within a coffee shop setting.
Formerly the CTO of a software company who once made the bulk of his living off freelance programming, Japhy knows the nomadic lifestyle of a freelance entrepreneur. For all the freedom that comes with making your own hours and choosing your own projects, freelancers of all kinds tend to struggle to find a place to work.
“I used to work remotely a lot, so I would have to look for coffee shops where there was a spare table where you could work. Places like Chicago, it’s a numbers game,” Japhy says, explaining that because coffee shops can be found on nearly every block, the challenge is not to find a shop, but to find a table. “You just keep hunting them until you can find a desk to work at for the day.”
In Benton Harbor, these quasi-workspaces are fewer and farther between. This is why, when former owner Teri Robinson announced she would be closing The Phoenix Rising, Japhy took a leap of faith and took the reins just more than two years ago.
On Nov. 1, 2017, Japhy took over the lease from Teri. By Thanksgiving of the same year, the coffee shop had dropped the “Rising” from its name and been certified by the state to operate, thus creating the third iteration of the business at 124 Water St. Given the multiple revivals of the business, one might wonder if the original owner of The Phoenix Rising knew that, despite challenges of running a thriving coffee shop, the business would rise from the ashes over and over again.
“It’s important to me to be down here, and that’s why I opened it [in the Arts District],” Japhy says. “But in the Arts District, we have a problem, to be too candid — a lot of the commercial space is priced too high, and you can tell which businesses are failing or succeeding.”
Nonetheless, Japhy is committed to continuing the legacy of the Phoenix and building a community around the Benton Harbor Arts District. He hopes by continuing to perfect his business model, The Phoenix and its successful neighbors will pave the way to drawing more people to district.
“We are working to get that critical mass, so you can draw people who don’t just come to see us and the Mason Jar and the Livery — they’re coming to the Arts District,” Japhy says.
In addition to providing a gathering space to the community, The Phoenix prides itself in providing coffee from local roasters, like Red Arrow Roasters in Sawyer and Aria in Berrien Springs, which Japhy says makes for a better blend.
“It’s not just because it’s local,” he says. “Getting it local means it’s fresh, but a lot of roasters in the area over-roast their coffee, so it makes it taste like what you would get at Starbucks.”
Japhy has carefully selected his coffee, as well as his menu, which features unique sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, burritos, salads, power bowls and more.
“We’re kind of different,” Japhy says. “We focus a lot more on the coffee end of things, and we kind of specialize in vegan baked goods.”
Mouthwatering creations like vegan banana dark chocolate muffin tops, kitchen sink cookies, and apple oat muffins fill the business’ Facebook feed.
Two years into business ownership, Japhy seems to have his feet under him, but that does not mean the coffee shop is done growing. The business owner encourages those interested in the arts district and the Phoenix specifically to keep their ears peeled for growth, alluding to more “big changes” he is not quite ready to reveal.
Whatever Japhy has up his sleeve, one thing seems to be true: The Phoenix — and the Benton Harbor Arts District — will continue to rise.
THE PHOENIX is located at 124 Water St. in the Benton Harbor Arts District. Visit the shop from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The kitchen is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Find The Phoenix on Facebook and Instagram, or visit its website at phnxbh.com.
Gabrizio Italian Café & Bakery
Story Beau Brockett Jr.
& Ambrosia Neldon
Photography Wes Jerdon
Just before officially unveiling her business to the city of Niles six months ago, Desyréé Alberganti said the best moment she had turning her vision of an Italian bakery and café into a reality was when she stepped through the decades-old doors of 104 N. Third St. in Niles.
She saw the brick walls inside and the history they housed, and she saw potential. She says she still gets goosebumps.
Many who enter the space to order a hot drink, homemade bowl of soup, handcrafted sandwich or delectable dessert are treated to the same hair-raising excitement.
The newest addition to downtown Niles’ Third Street corridor opened inside the Grand LV, an event venue owned by Melanie and Donny Kennedy, in fall 2019 — and guests still “ooh” and “ah” as they peek through the dessert case, and then settle in to the modernly decorated, quaint Italian bakery.
Gabrizio is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Monday, offering signature coffees, coffee grounds, non-caffeinated beverages, pastries, sandwiches, salads and cakes. Some menu items accommodate for allergies, food intolerances and dietary choices.
A feeling of fate may have helped Desyréé make the decision to open her own bakery and café.
Inside the Grand LV, Desyréé realized she could take the first word of her former place of work, the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, and the initials of her former residence, Las Vegas, to make the word “Grand LV.”
Desyréé says she truly chose the site out of other Michiana locations, however, because of she fell in love with both the building and the city.
“I feel like this town has a lot of potential,” she says.
Downtown Niles has experienced a rapid influx of business in the last calendar year, with Iron Shoe Distillery, Apothica Teas and the Rage also joining the town’s dining scene in 2019, and Niles Brewing Company’s grand opening just around the corner. The downtown also welcomed Casperson Books & More, Oddiophiles and Oh My LLC, a wedding and evening gown shop, in 2019.
Like many entrepreneurs planting roots in Niles, Desyréé had a clear vision. She says her venture into the former Elks Lodge that is currently the Grand LV is a new concept.
“It’s kind of a mix of new trends and very traditional Italian roots,” she says.
Not only is the building’s old infrastructure intermixed with new floral décor, seating areas and counterspace, the blending of new and old is in Desyréé’s baking and brewing.
The Granger resident had previously spent 30 years as a Venetian hotel pastry chef in Las Vegas.
“I feel like I grew up in the kitchen,” she said with a chuckle just before the grand opening in September.
Each recipe at Gabrizio is her own, and each has an inspiration behind it.
Take the latte, Bonaire Moka Joy. While following a traditional brewing recipe, its key ingredients — coconut, almond clusters and chocolate ganache — are inspired by the candy bar Almond Joy.
The Goloso is another example. It is a “warmwich,” a panini-esque dessert that has marshmallows and hazelnut praline, two of her children’s favorite foods.
Alberganti’s children are also the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name. She took the first part of her daughter, Gabriella’s name and the last part of her son Fabrizio’s name to create the word “Gabrizio.”
Gabriella, Fabrizio and their father are the prime motivations behind Alberganti’s move to open her own bakery and café. She said it is for them.
Jessica Toppel, an employee at Gabrizio and a friend of Desyréé’s, says that Desyréé’s kindness is apparent through the love for both her family and her business.
“She is like the warmest, most friendliest person I’ve ever met — very giving and generous,” says Jessica, of Granger. “A wonderful family. I’ve only known her for a short time, but we hang out a lot.”
Desyréé says she wants her customers to feel at home, as if they are part of the Gabrizio family.
“We want this to be a nice environment for people to come and hang out, relax, have fun and forget all the issues and problems they have once they go beyond those doors,” she says.
Gabrizio Italian Cafe & Bakery is located at 104 N. Third St., inside downtown Niles’ The Grand LV. The cafe and bakery is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, and serves a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, pastries and beverages. Find the business on Facebook and Instagram under “Gabrizio ICB.”