Life is about to get sweeter for local chocolate fiends – in more ways than one.
For Mark Tarner, founder and owner of South Bend Chocolate, his collaboration with the airport marks 19 stores throughout Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. His mission “is to make South Bend and Indiana a sweeter place,” Tarner said.
As of Sunday, June 1, the company took over food service, beverage, gift shop and vending operations at the airport, replacing services provided by Air Host since 1977. The airport put out a public request for remodeling bids earlier this year and South Bend Chocolate made the top three; the other two finalists were professional airport concession companies. South Bend Chocolate’s bid won because it was “creative, local and unique,” Tarner said. “The secret to our success is quality and being true to ourselves.”
This is the second airport location for South Bend Chocolate; the company also has a cafe at Indianapolis International Airport. But this new merger is more significant. Renovations on both the post-security and public sides will occur in the next few months, as South Bend Chocolate launches a signature Chocolate Café and a gift shop offering crafts from local artists, as well as memorabilia from University of Notre Dame and Indiana University South Bend.
The biggest addition will be an airport restaurant and bar called BarFly, decked out in aviation antiques. It will serve a variety of food options, among them – what else? – wings.
In downtown Mishawaka, the latest South Bend Chocolate Café is doing some sugar-coating of its own.
The shop, managed by Todd Berger and co-owned by Chris Fielding and his wife, Melinda Konrath, opened Wednesday, May 28 at 117 S. Main Street. There’s been steady business since then, Konrath said. “We’ve heard people say they are so glad they don’t have to drive to South Bend.”
The owners are familiar with both the area and the running of a successful café; all three started a former coffee shop, The Beanery, in the same space where the Chocolate Café now resides. They sold the shop eight years ago and have talked about getting back into the business since.
When the previous venture to occupy the space, Stevie’s Unique Treats, closed, Fielding began conversation with Tarner; they are affiliates through Fielding’s job as director of business development for South Bend. The offer to franchise was one the group couldn’t pass up.
“It was really the location that brought us back,” said Konrath, who also works for Northern Indiana Maternal & Child Healthcare. “We know the clientele and everyday customers. It’s a great opportunity to bring the brand to Mishawaka.”
The café offers a menu similar to South Bend’s location, with coffee and chocolate drinks, smoothies, cupcakes and fresh-made soups and salads. There is also a full candy counter, with chocolates made at South Bend’s factory.
“The quality of the candy and chocolates is something that attracts repeat business,” Konrath said. “Because it’s a local homegrown company, people are very loyal.”
The cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. In addition to the regular features found in a South Bend Chocolate shop, there will be live music on the weekends, bringing in local artists for an echo of a tradition from The Beanery’s days.
With these ventures, said Tarner, “we hope to improve the visitor’s first impressions of northern Indiana, showcasing to the world that we are not only a sweet place, but culinary cool as well.”