Inside South Bend's 'restaurant incubator' at the old Emporium building

NOW: Inside South Bend’s ’restaurant incubator’ at the old Emporium building

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- A new kitchen officially opened Wednesday inside the old Emporium building in South Bend's East Bank. A new incubator program headed by a local developer is revitalizing what was once a popular riverside restaurant that closed during the pandemic.

“We’d have people coming in, telling us stories of how they went to prom or got engaged at the Emporium Restaurant, and there’s just a huge amount of legacy and history of families having great memories at the restaurant,” said developer David Matthews.

The famous restaurant folded during the pandemic, and was bought by Matthews, who turned it, in part, into what he calls a "restaurant incubator."

 “We try to make a path that someone who wanted to start with a concept could get started with very little capital," Matthews said.

"They need some money, but they don’t need, like hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they can then test their concept, build a following. And then once they have a following, once they’re successful, they can move into a bigger space.”

Wednesday, the newest addition to the Emporium building and the incubator program, Island Fusion, officially opened.

“We’re just trying to be part of the South Bend DNA. That’s why we are here at the Emporium building,” said Chef Kerwin Huggins.  “It’s kind of in the name, it’s a fusion of different Caribbean foods that you don’t usually get around here.”

 The incubator program is a low-liability way to try out new businesses. 

"We want small businesses," Matthews said. "Small business owners tend to invest more in the community. Big businesses all grew from a small business at some point, most of the time, and if they fail, then it opens up the spot for somebody else to move in.”

Matthews said the building already has the incubator spots full, and a new tenant has leased out the former Emporium Restaurant.

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