Living up to a legend is hard enough when you're performing, but when you're reviving a local landmark like Vegetable Buddies, the bar is raised that much higher.
So when longtime local musician Jeff Harrison decided to relaunch the club – which ran from 1976-80 – he thought it only made sense to sound out the former owners.
“I called them up: 'How would you feel if I did this?',” said Harrison. “And they were cool about it. They were excited about it, too: it's like, 'Well, you got some big shoes to fill, kid! You've got a lot to live up to.'”
The response to Vegetable Buddies' rebirth has been “overwhelming,” as Harrison puts it, since the 300-capacity venue reopened in May, after about a year of renovation.
Though Harrison had set his sights on opening a music venue, he didn't know – until renovations started – that the building was the actual site for the club, which hosted blues legends like Canned Heat and Muddy Waters during its original incarnation.
“I wasn't sure I was gonna go with the old name, but there's a lot of people that were enthusiastic about it,” said Harrison. “There's still a lot of people that remember it, and I remember it growing up. I was too young to ever come here (at the time), but I always remember hearing about it.”
Harrison found himself in “the right place at the right time” to make his dream happen.
“I was in the corrugated box business, a family business, my whole life. I'd like to say I made a fortune touring, but that's not the case,” said Harrison, laughing. “At a certain point, I cashed out, and got into real estate – with the end game being a venue like this. There's a lot of great opportunities here, in downtown South Bend. It's a good time.”
Longtime fans shouldn't expect a carbon copy of the original Vegetable Buddies – “obviously, it's a different era,” notes Harrison – which has a larger stage, an upgraded sound system, and a menu that focuses on Southern style food.
“Our signature dish is shrimp 'n' grits, or the shrimp po'boys – it's pretty unique to this area, and it's getting a lot of rave reviews,” said Harrison.
Other notable items – besides the usual array of sandwiches, soups and salads – include the Buddy Burger, which comes on homemade bacon and pimento cheese, and the Bourbon 'n' Coke Meatloaf, to name a few.
“I wasn't sure I was gonna go with the old name, but there's a lot of people that were enthusiastic about it. There's still a lot of people that remember it, and I remember it growing up.” (Vegetable Buddies' new owner, Jeff Harrison)Many of the bands that played during Vegetable Buddies' first run are still around, so look for them to return – such as Duke Tomatoe, for instance – with an emphasis on acts that don't normally play in South Bend, Harrison suggests.
“We're trying to get Little Ed & The Blues Imperials to come in – turns out, this was his first gig,” said Harrison. “He's gone on to be a real legend. We're (also) bringing in people that we think are going to be future legends, like Samantha Fish.”
Harrison is bullishly optimistic about the future of South Bend, whose location makes it an ideal spot for touring bands – especially when trying to fill an off night on their calendars, he believes.
“For a touring band, they all have to come through here. We're pretty much halfway to everywhere, if they've got a show in Chicago, or St. Louis, or Detroit. We're going to be a regular stop for a lot of great acts, I think,” he said.
For the moment, Vegetable Buddies is a midweek- to weekend-only proposition, one that Harrison eventually hopes to expand – along with his menu – to every night of the week.
All things considered, though, Vegetable Buddies' rebirth has proven to be everything that Harrison hoped to see happening – and then some.
“What I'm doing right now is pretty much what I always wanted to do,” said Harrison. “I'm living the dream, and it's only going to get better.”
Live: 4 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday and Thursday, and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 129 N. Michigan Ave., South Bend. (574) 232-0954.
More Information: http://www.buddiesdtsb.com/,