While South Dining Hall’s omelets are glorious in their own right, I knew that a wonderful breakfast had to exist somewhere outside the “Notre Dame Bubble” as well. With this in mind, I took to the internet and the expertise of Notre Dame employees from the area and quickly discovered that Jeannie’s House Diner was the place I needed to be. As my research suggested, this appeared to be exactly the type of establishment I was looking for: an important part of the community, where locals and visitors come to enjoy quality food in a comfortable environment conducive to great conversation, old friendships, and local pride. With this in mind, I set out on a stormy fall morning with the hope that Jeannie’s was, in fact, such a place.
True to my Google Maps directions, I arrived at the diner after about ten minutes of driving through parts of South Bend I had never seen. Gone were the vast parking lots that surround the Notre Dame stadium and the sparkling new townhouses of Eddy St; instead, I had been transported to the midwestern town that I imagined. Neighboring the diner were other “town classics” including a school and a gas station off of the bustling Mishawaka Avenue. As I walked in the door, I was immediately greeted by a friendly woman behind the counter, who correctly guessed that I was the Notre Dame student there for a story. After offering me a cup of coffee and telling me to “Make yourself at home. Feel free to walk around wherever–behind the counter, back in the kitchen–place is yours!” I commenced my exploration.
In addition to delivering plates to tables, refilling coffee cups, and tending the register, Jeannie agreed to to answer some of my questions with no hesitation. After moving to the area from Illinois in 2007 and waitressing in South Bend for a number of years, she bought the diner in March of 2011. “There are definitely pros and cons, but owning [Jeannie’s] is much better than being a waitress,” and she enjoys the hard work and challenges that ownership brings. Increasing business is always the goal, and recently, technology has played a large role. With 189 fans on Facebook and 9 reviews on Yelp, Jeannie’s online presence is one of the largest of all South Bend restaurants. The diner has also established a Text Club, where patrons can text “Jhouse” to a number and receive deals through their phones. Jeannie estimated that she has roughly 100 people on the list and texts updates and offers about once a week. “Anything more than that just gets annoying, so I keep it to a semi-regular basis.”
In addition to Jeannie, two other women were working at the diner: Tammy, the head cook, and Kathy, the dishwasher and food prep assistant–both South Bend natives and members of the crew since the restaurant’s opening in 2011. Together, the three of them maintain the kitchen and storeroom, purchase all of the ingredients and supplies, and prepare all of the food in-house. Some of Jeannie’s House’s specialties include homemade meatloaf, corned beef hash, and jalapeno sausage. Most of the ingredients are purchased from local businesses including Breadsmith Bakery and Stanz, both located in South Bend.
As the morning progressed, customers began to roll in. Jeannie speculated that three-quarters of the diner’s patrons are regulars, but football weekends do bring larger numbers of outsiders. I was lucky enough to talk to three different parties over the course of the morning. Larry, an enthusiastic Notre Dame fan and father of an alum, comes to Jeannie’s every morning for coffee, eggs, bacon, and wheat toast, along with his newspaper. Doris and Ray, also regulars, have been coming to Jeannie’s for breakfast every day since its opening (and even before, “But it’s much better now than it was under the old owners.”). However, for Pete and Kathleen, it was their first visit to Jeannie’s. They have been trying different places around the area, hoping to find a place they like enough to make their regular spot. Upon finishing their breakfast, they seemed to agree that Jeannie’s was just that place.