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Local caf

Sara Felsenstein | Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lula’s café, a popular restaurant and meeting spot for groups in the Notre Dame and the larger South Bend community, was notified early in October that its lease would not be renewed. It must vacate its Edison Plaza location by the end of the month.

Owner and 1993 Notre Dane graduate Steve Egan has spent the last month searching for a new home for the café he opened 16 years ago. He hopes to carry over the “essence” of Lula’s to its new location.

“Lula’s is a thriving business that was thrown a curve,” Egan said. “My approach has been take a positive stance, Lula’s is going to be bigger and better. We look at this as an opportunity to grow.”

When the idea of Lula’s was born 16 years ago, Egan was a public accountant in Chicago. Over dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Egan’s friend and fellow Notre Dame graduate proposed the idea of opening a café in South Bend.

Egan’s girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife, was considering taking a job in South Bend, so the timing was perfect, he said.

Egan went around to cafés in Chicago to brainstorm ideas and to gather as much financial data as he could. He and a business partner put together a business plan, found a location and got their brand new café up-and-running.

“It was a happy accident, really,” Egan said. “Lula’s was a hit right away.”

Egan said Lula’s was always intended as a bridge between the South Bend community and the campus communities, including Notre Dame, Holy Cross, Saint Mary’s and Indiana University South Bend.

“We want to break down barriers … misconceptions that people from town have about people from campus, and vice versa,” he said. “We want to appeal to all demographics.”

When Egan was deciding on Lula’s original location, a main

criterion he had was that it was close to campus.

“That’s everything in a restaurant business — location,” he said. “It’s huge.”

Now, he has already looked at about 40 spaces for possible new locations. He hopes to reopen by Dec. 1.

“Certainly, the campus community is vital to who we are, so my first circle drawn is close to here,” he said.

Keeping the “feel” of Lula’s is crucial, Egan said. He hopes to retain the same vibe, which he calls “eclectic comfort,” at the new location.

Still, he said that given a new space and a new location, some things about Lula’s will inevitably be different.

“People don’t like change,” he said. “However, this is an opportunity for us to implement [other things that] customers want to see. We want to keep the core ambience, but also change it and make it different and better.”

Egan said there has been an outpouring of support from both Lula’s staff and customers. He said not a single employee has left despite the uncertainty surrounding Lula’s future and he started hearing from customers he hadn’t spoken to in 10 years.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive — it’s like getting to hear your own eulogy when you’re alive,” he said. “I’ve heard so many great stories. ‘I had my first date with husband at Lula’s,’ ‘Lula’s got me through Ph.D.,’ ‘I had my first kiss at

Lula’s.'”

Over the years, Lula’s has held cultural events to bring the different communities together, ranging from music performances to art openings to poetry readings. One new thing Egan hopes to have at the next Lula’s are guest speakers.

Jennifer Stockdale, a graduate student in Creative Writing, has read twice at Lula’s as a part of the series featuring graduate students in the Creative Writing Program.

“I often go to Lula’s to write. The atmosphere is conducive to writing and reading — quiet but not too quiet,” she said.

Stockdale said she has met other South Bend poets for workshops at Lula’s.

“Lula’s has played an integral role in maintaining the community of writers here in South Bend.”

Junior Kelsey Clemson also frequents Lula’s and enjoys its welcoming atmosphere.

“People there are incredibly friendly and every time I go, there is a new collection of people. I’ve seen older couples, professors, graduate students and families,” she said. “It’s just so easy to feel right at home at Lula’s. I hope they find a new location where they can create that same feeling.”

While Egan admitted the sudden change has created stress and uncertainty, he has taken a positive outlook, using the move as an opportunity to improve Lula’s and cater even more to the needs of its customers.

“Overall, this is a bump in the road,” Egan said. “It’s a big deal in my work life, but in the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. Things happen in life. You have to know that things are going to be better four months, six months from now.”