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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Scene in South Bend: The General Deli & Cafe

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JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

“There’s a storm. On the wall. The shades are dark but royal — blues and purples with metallic glimmers. A silver lining?

The underlay of the painting is green and so are the walls. The walls are a spring green — the color of the translucent plastic grass that sits on the bottom of Easter baskets and sticks to the treats inside.”

These are notes I jotted down about my colorful surroundings in South Bend's newest lunch spot.

John Barany and Paul Kuharic opened The General Deli & Cafe, an eccentric sandwich shop with the tagline “coffee anytime,” in the East Bank of South Bend this summer.

I sat down with Barany, a Notre Dame alumnus, at a front table in the eclectic establishment — a gargoyle head mounted on the wall between us seemed ready to join the conversation.

Barany and Kuharic both grew up in South Bend, a fact that kept them advantageously in tune with the needs of the city.

“We knew that, on this side of the river, the neighborhood was really coming along. It has been for years, but we’ve reached that critical mass where it’s really happening,” Barany said. “We felt fortunate to be here and decided what niche needed to be filled.”

After buying the property across from Howard Park two years ago, Paul and John happened into the restaurant industry “almost by accident.”

“There’s Chicory Café right downtown, but on this side, there wasn’t a cool hangout. Over here you have Baranby’s, The Emporium and Macri’s around the corner, but not really a lunch place. So that’s what we were shooting for.”

And they’ve hit the target. The menu offers lattes, cappuccinos and the like, as well as drip coffee — a bargain at $2 for 12 oz. The refrigerated display case up front showcases multicolored bottles of Coca-Cola, Sprecher root beer, Fentimans flavored botanical drinks and Fruitbelt sparkling juices. Diet Coke is served in cans.

The sandwiches, which all reasonably fall between $7 and $8, are superb: they’re hot-pressed before being served, resulting in melted cheese that avoids soggy territory. All sandwiches come with kettle chips and two pickles — one regular spear and one horseradish chip. With their sweet, tangy taste, it’s no wonder people request jars of horseradish pickle chips to take home.

The sandwich ingredients are eclectic. The Kibbler features apples and honey mustard; The General (a vegetarian option) combines feta with Sriracha mayo.

“The Mona is the best-seller; then, it’s a close tie between The Kibbler and Pualstrami,” Barany said.

There’s a story to these name choices: The Paulstrami is named after Paul Kuharic.

“I have a daughter named Monica so the Mona is named after her. I have another daughter named Kaitlin and her nickname — I don’t know why or how — is Kibbles, so the Kibbler is for her. My third daughter is a little pissed off because she’s not represented,” Barany said.

However, Barany’s eldest daughter is represented in the décor. She, Kuharic’s sister, café employees and local artists made all the current artwork. To get an idea for the unique curation, current paintings depict an eagle, a wizard, a pink unicorn, a dog in western wear carrying a gun, Elvis, Jesus walking on water, a buffalo covered in snow and a parrot perched above a subservient dog in front of a burning church.

As for the other decorations — a telephone booth, an extensive collection of salt and pepper shakers ranging from toucans to sleeping seals — Barany said most of it comes from Kuharic’s collection.

“Paul is an art guy — he’s a ceramics teacher at St. Joseph High School,” Barany said. “He’s got a lot of weird stuff like that pillar from a convent at St. Joseph Grade School. He had some old timbers that we turned into the bar. We repurposed a lot of things. The floor is material that was milled wrong for Wayne State University up in Detroit.”

Sustainability extends beyond the décor at The General. It is also ingrained into the café’s supply chain. They feature Ragamuffin bagels made by Abby Gillian at the Kroc Center, gluten-free Cyn's Fruitful muffins baked at local charity Our Lady of the Road with all-natural ingredients, coffee beans from local roaster Zen Café, greens from Jenna Farms and chocolate from LangLab’s Violet Sky.

Barany plans to continue using locally sourced ingredients even if the Café expands. Already, the kitchen is moving faster than the menu can keep up with — Reuben sandwiches and caprese salad are currently available but not yet in print. The café also hopes to expand breakfast options to attract more visitors in the morning, a slow time.

The General has been approved for a three-way liquor license but an isolated bar area is required before putting it to use.

Mendoza students are currently helping the café with marketing, design and finance.

“It’ll help us, it’ll help them. The university is one of the strongest supporters of the local economy,” Barany said.

The General has catered a few on-campus events, but you can head over to the location at 609 E. Jefferson Blvd. between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday or from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

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JOSEPH HAN (Photos c/o Mary McGraw) | The Observer