The first concert at the re-imagined Vegetable Buddies in South Bend is in full swing, but new owner Jeff Harrison is nowhere to be found.
Blame it on the night’s cocktail special.
With the space filling up throughout dinner and edging toward capacity sometime around 10 p.m. — when local throwback rockers Dog & Pony are scheduled to take the stage — thirsty patrons are ordering “you-call-it mules” at quite a clip. Ginger beer supplies are running low. Harrison takes matters into his own hands; he heads out to get more brew to keep the special going.
“I’ve been putting this thing together for about a year, and I had to run get some damn ginger beer during the first song,” Harrison said.
Most locals who remember the original Vegetable Buddies agree Harrison’s going to have to maintain that level of commitment to live up to the legacy of his newly minted restaurant and concert venue, which hosted its first live music on May 7.
“You have some very big shoes to fill,” Mishawaka native Velma Krupnik, who appeared at Vegetable Buddies in the late 1970s as belly dancer Ashada Ouzo, commented in a previous Flavor 574 article. “If you dare to call yourself Vegetable Buddies, do not underestimate the tremendous followers that have supported the history…You are taking a big risk using the name without the personalities that made it the iconic place it was. Wishing you the very best of luck, of course. You are in pursuit of a legend.”
The original Vegetable Buddies closed in 1980, and the original owners are not involved in the brand’s latest incarnation.
Harrison, a local musician and real estate developer, started working on licensing and construction for the new Vegetable Buddies at 129 N. Michigan St. late last year. Along with manager Larry Katz and chef Elaine Thibault, he opened the doors to diners on May 5, two days before the first band took the stage. “We scrambled to get something together in time for the [Riverlights Music] Festival,” Harrison said.
Harrison said that he’ll try to maintain the classic rock and blues spirit of the old nightclub while bringing new acts to the venue, which holds roughly 300. Upcoming acts include The Hurricane Reggae Band on May 21.
Harrison said he hopes Vegetable Buddies’ size will be a draw for touring acts. “I think we have venues that are too small and venues that are too big,” he said. He pointed to Royal Southern Brotherhood, featuring Cyril Neville of The Meters and The Neville Brothers, on July 15 as an example of the talent he has in the pipeline.
The new nightclub, open from 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, has already drawn praise around town and on social media. The limited opening menu features Southern-inspired comfort food, with starters like black-eyed pea hummus and pimento mac n’ cheese toasts and entrees like bourbon and Coke meatloaf and shrimp and grits.
The music venue likewise was well received during the opening night performance, though a few patrons were less than thrilled with the amount of standing room available. Harrison said the table layout will be subject to change each night depending on the show.
Whatever the changes, plenty of local music fans are on board with Harrison’s efforts.
“That was one of my stomping grounds back in the seventies,” South Bend native Marcoantonio Arellano commented in a previous Flavor 574 article. “If I get a chance to witness once again any semblance of this long time past experience, I will embrace it.”
Shea Gibbs is a freelance writer for Flavor 574, covering South Bend and the surrounding area.