When you visit Bishop and Bae’s Soul Food restaurant, owners Erskine and Diona Jones want customers to leave feeling full.
“Soul food is comfort food. It’s the food your mom would cook, and especially the African American family. It’s home food where you come here and before you order, you smell it,” said Erskine said. “When you leave here, you should unbutton your pants, get off the table…and have to sit for another 15 minutes (to let it digest).”
But the owners of South Bend’s new soul food restaurant want to do more than fill customers’ stomachs. They also want to fill their hearts.
“I want them to feel at home,” Erskine said. “What we’ve really worked on is that even though Bishop and Bae’s name is on it, it’s really the community restaurant.”
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Erskine (the “Bishop”) and Diona (the “Bae”) are both active in the Sweet Home Ministries church and have initiated several rehabilitation and recovery programs, reaching and helping hundreds of members of the community. In 2020, they opened a clothing store called The Closet that provides clothing to people in the Fresh Start Friday program, which works to clear ex-offender records. Regular buyers can also purchase items from the store.
During the pandemic shutdown in 2020, Erskine started sharing his cooking online and discovered that people were commenting and asking where they could get a plate. As businesses began to reopen, he expanded the idea into the full-fledged restaurant it has become today.
The new restaurant opened in January at 301 Chapin St., next to the Studebaker National Museum and near the Kroc Center in South Bend.
“I can’t keep cooking at home (for others), so why not open a restaurant? So that’s what we did,” he said.
With the help of family friend Bessie Jones, affectionately known as Mama Tracy, the Joneses provide homemade dinners such as fried pork chops, fried chicken, short ribs, tail of beef and catfish served with a variety of sides including mac and cheese, candied yams, greens, pinto beans and more. Specialties such as seafood and crab boils are offered occasionally, and the restaurant also serves desserts prepared by local vendors. But what is offered at the restaurant is not necessarily limited to what is on the menu.
“It scales, depending on what people come in and ask for,” Erskine said. “When Mama Tracy is around, you can ask for anything.”
“You really can. For example, people ask for tomatoes and onions that we don’t have on the menu,” Diona said.
“But she’ll do anything to you. She doesn’t care,” Erskine added.
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The quaint 34-seat restaurant features what the owners call a “bishop’s table,” located at the front of the restaurant, where diners can congregate and Erskine often sits with them to create a family-friendly atmosphere. The family extends hospitality by offering a warm welcome to every guest who enters.
“We don’t want (the restaurant to get) too big and then lose touch with everyone where we can laugh and giggle,” he said.
Currently open Thursday through Saturday for dinner, the owners plan to extend their hours to lunchtime in the summer and add outdoor seating. But ultimately, they just hope to become another gathering place for South Bend to call home.
“We want to be part of South Bend and bring livelihoods back to downtown,” Erskine said. “(We want to) bring some soul to our city.”
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.