For months, Joe Mittiga has been working on changes customers will notice -- without a doubt -- when they walk into his Corby's Irish Pub in South Bend today.
When the doors reopen at 3 instead of 6 p.m., with new extended hours in effect.
When the first homemade pizza and sausage grinder are served from the new ovens in the new kitchen.
And when someone starts to light a cigarette and notices that the ashtrays have been removed because Corby's has voluntarily decided to go smoke-free.
"I don't want to change Corby's, the concept, and who we are and have been for more than 20 years," says Mittiga, whose mom, Maria, owns the bar located at 441 E. LaSalle Ave. "But I want to make sure we are giving people the best experience possible."
To accomplish this, Mittiga decided to pump a substantial investment in the bar that his mom has owned for many years. It started with the addition of a kitchen, and was followed by the decision to eliminate smoking inside.
Smoking will still be allowed on the outdoor patio.
Given the amount of competition there is among chain and locally owned bars and restaurants, Mittiga wants to offer customers more options -- food being among them.
Not everyone remembers the time when the limelight shined on Corby's bar.
"There have been a lot of changes locally since the film crews were here," Mittiga says, referring to all the area restaurants that have opened since "Rudy." Scenes from the 1993 movie were filmed at Corby's building.
"So we wanted to add something for the person who works downtown," he says, "as well as for the group who comes to town for a Notre Dame game."
Mittiga also wants to promote a healthier, cleaner environment by becoming a nonsmoking bar. Many out-of-town customers, he says, are surprised to find out Indiana bars allow smoking.
People don't expect to be able to smoke when they come to the bar, he says, so he is doing this voluntarily.
"I didn't want to complete all these renovations and make everything look really nice and have it completely dirty with cigarette smoke," he says. "Eating a homemade slice of pizza with someone sitting next to you smoking doesn't sound appetizing to me. There was a time when it seemed like everyone smoked, but there's been a shift."
By fall, Mattiga hopes to add more items to the menu, including salads, and open for lunch. We'll let you know when that happens.
He is also planning to expand the existing outdoor beer garden, perhaps adding two or three sand volleyball courts next spring. Mattiga purchased more than half an acre that extends to the East Race on the west side of his building.
"There's been much more of a recent push, in my opinion, to revitalize the downtown, which has been neglected for my years," Mittiga says.
The kickoff for what is being called the smoke-free era at Corby's starts today at 7 p.m. There is no cover and the bar will feature a live deejay and drink specials. New hours are 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday.
Have you heard?
Join our next live chat at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, when we will discuss the Corby's improvements and other East Bank activity that you'll find in Sunday's column. ... Marigolds will host its 2nd Annual Alex's Lemonade Stand as part of the National Lemonade Days weekend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Saturday. Marigolds is located at 722 E. Jefferson Blvd., South Bend. Donations will go toward childhood cancer research.
Heidi Prescott's column runs in the South Bend Tribune on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Whenshe's not shopping, contact her at email@example.com or 574-235-6070. You can also talk retail at Facebook.com/thebasket and at Twitter.com/marketbasket.