Special deals designed to help you discover dining spots downtown
More than 1,500 area diners visit Cafe Navarre every week, and soon, even more customers will be walking through the doors of the year-old downtown South Bend restaurant.
For a biannual event that started in 2011 and is now offered during the summer and winter.
The promotion actually runs two weeks so it can include two weekends of dining deals.
Since its inception, the sponsoring Downtown Dining Alliance, a collection of business owners and foodies who promote locally owned and independent restaurants, has touted the event as a time to dine local.
"These events are absolutely worth it," Kurt Janowsky, owner of Cafe Navarre, says, explaining how they promote the downtown culinary scene.
"It gives us the opportunity to market all of the downtown restaurants to people who don't always come down here to dine," Janowsky says. "It shows we offer something a little different from where they might go now on chain row."
Many diners agree.
In fact, restaurateurs recommend diners call ahead during Restaurant Week to ensure a table is available and reserved for your group.
"I'm not a fan of chain restaurants, so I usually frequent these places regardless," Lisa Blouin, of South Bend, posted on Facebook.
Jenn Nyikos, also of South Bend, admitted she has not tried the downtown restaurants "because I've heard they are too expensive."
Kelsey Leigh also has heard prices scare some diners away from downtown.
"I would love to have something like tastings, or samples of dishes from various upscale restaurants," the South Bend diner posts.
Jennifer Hren enjoys being able to support local businesses and is drawn to discounts and specials. "It has definitely been a big draw in attracting my husband and me to downtown South Bend dining."
A few changes have taken place since Restaurant Week started, in case you have not participated in a while. Or if this is your first time.
The dinner prices have increased, while the number of restaurants has decreased.
Sixteen restaurants participated when the promotion started two years ago. Those restaurants offered two dinners or a three-course dinner for $25, and some offered lunch specials.
Now, only 11 downtown restaurants are taking part, and dinner for two costs $30. Lunch specials generally promote two for $15 at some downtown venues, and LePeep even offers breakfast.
Restaurant menus and hours are available at www.eatdrinkdtsb.com.
Mark McDonnell, founder and proprietor at LaSalle Grill, acknowledges the business climate for restaurants has been challenging since the recession's onset.
Thousands more restaurants have closed in the past few years across the country than have opened, statistics show.
"(But) we get a lot of guests who come in for the restaurant weeks who we don't see other times," McDonnell says.
Janowsky says December sales at Café Navarre topped November sales, November sales topped October sales, and October sales topped September sales.
"We're not in the honeymoon phase anymore either," he says optimistically. "I would like to see even more places come in and be successful. I'm very committed to downtown."
Neither Janowsky nor McDonnell support offering Restaurant Week any more than twice per year, however.
"You offer it too frequently and people won't go unless it's Restaurant Week," Janowsky said.
Tamara Nicholl-Smith, South Bend's director of downtown business recruitment, says city officials have been thrilled by the number of participating diners at both the winter and summer promotions.
"Even months after the fact, people are still talking about it," she says. "The restaurants have continued to diversify both their offerings and their pricing, and there is a positive residual effect."
Carol Meehan, co-owner of Fiddler's Hearth, says the current promotion is beneficial to her restaurant and bar, and to customers.
"Restaurant Week has helped increase our average check at Fiddler's since it entices people to try something more than just the fish and chips," Meehan says. "It's a great opportunity for restaurants to flex their culinary wings and for their customers to get a great deal."
Have you heard?
LaSalle Grill's Mark McDonnell revealed plans to transform Club LaSalle into a moderately priced gastropub during our live chat last week. "We'll be cooking up a new, more casual menu in our third-floor kitchen," McDonnell says about the concept that he's had in the back of his mind for several years. ... Join our next live chat at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Heidi Prescott's column runs on Fridays and Sundays. When she's not shopping, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-235-6070. You can also talk retail at Facebook.com/thebasket and at Twitter.com/marketbasket.
Your table is waiting
The following locally owned restaurants are participating in Winter Restaurant Week, which starts Monday and runs through Feb. 3.
For more information, including restaurant hours and menus, go to www.eatdrinkdtsb.com. Reservations are recommended for some restaurants.
Baker's Bar & Grille, 123 N. St. Joseph St., at the DoubleTree by Hilton.
Café Navarre, 101 N. Michigan St.
Ciao's Lounge, 119 N. Michigan St.
East Bank Emporium, 121 S. Niles Ave.
Fiddler's Hearth, 127 N. Main St.
LaSalle Grill, 115 W. Colfax Ave.
LePeep, 127 S. Michigan St.
South Bend Chocolate Cafe, 122 S. Michigan St.
Sunny Italy Cafe, 601 N. Niles Ave.
Tippecanoe Place, 620 W. Washington St.
The Vine, 103 W. Colfax Ave.