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Carriage House's new owners hope to continue tradition

The new owners of Carriage House Dining Room & Gardens want to maintain the legacy of the award-winning South Bend restaurant.

Former employees Rodney Fields, 36, and Joshua Bishop, 31, said Wednesday they have a purchase agreement to buy the restaurant with backing from Bishop’s mother and stepfather, Mary and Pat Heller.

Judy Coté, whose family has operated the restaurant since 1975, announced in January that she was selling the restaurant on the northwest side of South Bend.

Carriage House, 24460 Adams Road, has been a Wine Spectator award winner the last 27 years and a AAA Four Diamond winner the last 23.

“We had a significant amount of interest in the business and the property,” said Coté in a phone interview. “Given the expertise and knowledge both Rodney and Josh have in Carriage House, we feel they will be very good caretakers for what has provided the state with probably the most excellent fine dining experience.”

“It just seemed like a natural fit for us,” said Fields, who has been a staff member the last six years. Bishop has also worked at the restaurant and is finishing a degree in Ivy Tech Community College’s hospitality program. He’s working for Maison Cuisine in Chicago.

“We want to still offer the highest quality available,” said Bishop. “It’s a legacy. Carriage House is a tradition in the Michiana area.”

The menu changes seasonally, but regulars have come to love the steak Diane, chicken liver pate and triple chocolate cake. Those will be available when the restaurant reopens, perhaps in mid-April, the men said.

The restaurant sits on nearly five acres of property and gardens, including an outdoor patio and kitchen.

The building was constructed in 1851 as a Brethren church. In the 1930s and 1940s it was a Grange hall, Fields said. It became a banquet hall in the 1960s and a restaurant in the mid-1970s.

“It’s a legacy. Carriage House is a tradition in the Michiana area.”

The new owners want to bring culinary trends to the South Bend market in the historic restaurant. “By the time it makes it to South Bend, it’s two years old,” Fields said of dining trends.

Carriage House fits into a fine-dining scene that includes several downtown restaurants and “everything has its place,” Fields said.

The average check price at Carriage House is $90 per person with alcohol, or about half that if diners eat from the more casual, patio-only Al Fresco menu.

Bishop said the restaurant and its setting evoke a special feeling as a destination dining location.

He and Fields hope the picturesque grounds, vast wine offerings, seasonal menu and reliable favorites will woo customers from Lake Michigan as well as from St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.

The men said they plan to carry on the tradition without getting stale and will utilize social media and marketing to bring new customers to Carriage House.

They’re working to bring back many of the staff members who left after Carriage House closed Dec. 31, and said customers will see many familiar faces.

The deal could be finalized in early April, with the opening soon after that, Pat Heller said.

He operates an Elkhart business and said he’ll focus on keeping the facilities in good shape. He was interested in seeing the restaurant continue and giving Fields and Bishop an opportunity. “It’s been there forever,” he said.

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