SOUTH BEND — After 13 years running Fiddler’s Hearth Public House, pub owners Carol and Terry Meehan plan to start a new tapas and wine venture later this year.
The couple will open Tapastrie down the street from Fiddler’s, at 103 W. Colfax Ave. in South Bend, serving up Mediterranean-inspired small plate dishes and an assortment of wine.
The idea for the restaurant came about when South Bend-native and Tapastrie’s co-owner and future manager, Tom Welsh, stopped by Fiddler’s for a drink after his job took him halfway across the world.
Welsh used to work in the hospitality industry, providing food, housekeeping and other services to oil and mining companies in different countries. It was during his years living in Cyprus and southern France that Welsh began to cultivate a taste for Mediterranean food.
“They eat this way with small plates, and I just always kept that in my mind and thought it would be a good thing to do some time,” Welsh said. “And I really like Spanish food and Spanish wine so just putting it all together seemed like a logical thing.”
Welsh brought his idea up to the Meehans during one of his visits to the Fiddler’s Hearth. And then last year, Welsh received an email while he was living in Mongolia.
It was from Carol Meehan.
“It’s an opportunity we had talked about a year before and said it would be a good idea to do that,” Welsh said. “And then one day The Vine became open, and Carol sent me an email and said, ‘Did you really mean that?’”
THE PUBLIC HOUSE
Before the Fiddler’s Hearth opened in 2002, Carol Meehan worked as a human resources manager at Corporate Staffing Resources in South Bend. After the company folded, she and her husband decided to get into the pub business.
“This place was empty, and we’re thinking, ‘Man, do you really want to go back to sitting behind a desk all day?’” Carol Meehan said.
Carol and Terry Meehan were also a part of the local Irish music scene, often performing at song and dance parties to benefit the remodeling of the Saint Patrick Church in South Bend. If they opened a pub, Carol remembered thinking they’d be able to have those parties every day.
“So we closed our eyes and jumped,” she said.
But with the parties came hard work. It can be costly to work in the dining industry, especially since the Meehans are dedicated to making their Irish dishes as authentic as possible, Carol said. Sometimes, that means importing different ingredients, and other times, it’s about finding the closest thing you can in the region.
“There’s certain things that just mean home to an Irish national,” she said. “Things like some of the chutneys and curries and sauces they use and the cheeses. But that’s imported here, and it’s really pricey.”
It’s been a balancing act for the family, between keeping the dishes as authentic as possible and keeping prices within people’s expectations of pub food, Carol Meehan said. They eat some of the profit margins so they can get it right.
But it’s paid off. They’ve built a reputation for their quality food and their relationship with different imported food vendors over the years have led to better deals.
These are the same challenges they expect to face once Tapastrie opens its doors, with the Spanish hams and olives they’re looking to import. But this time, they’ll have more than a decade’s worth of experience in the dining industry.
When Carol first heard Welsh talk about his idea for a tapas and wine restaurant, she was brought back to her youth in California.
“One of my best friends in high school was Spanish, her mother was born in Spain,” Carol said. “And they ate a lot of that cuisine, and they brought in foreign exchange students year after year after year, so I literally hung out with a bunch of Spaniards in high school.”
And Carol’s drink of choice had always been wine. When The Vine restaurant closed down in South Bend, she saw an opportunity to bring her fondness for Spanish cuisine and her love of wine together.
“There’s clearly a big interest in wine tasting, but there’s really not a lot of places in South Bend that do wine tasting and do it well in such an open format where people who don’t know wines can go in and not feel intimidated,” Carol said.
One of the ways Tapastrie will make its wine more accessible to everyone is through its wine dispenser, which Welsh said will make the restaurant unique to South Bend. It will allow people to get a sample of each wine option before they purchase a full glass.
And there will even be special events for wine drinkers, old and new, at the restaurant, she said.
“We do hope with that space downstairs, we want to make it feel like you’re going down into a wine cellar to have private events down there, do some wine tasting events, maybe some olive oil tastings,” Carol said.
But Tapastrie is not only a break from what Carol and Terry have known in the last 13 years as co-owners of the Fiddler’s Hearth. It’s something new for South Bend as a whole, Welsh said.
“It’s something different, and I think people in South Bend have really come of age in the last 10 or 15 years in terms of sophistication of palates,” he said. “And I think it’s really something interesting that’s not around here that I think people will like.”