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scene

Scene in South Bend: Yellow Cat Cafe

| Thursday, February 16, 2017

yellow cat web pgCristina Interiano

In one classic scene from the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) are sitting in a booth at the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana’s beloved breakfast spot, J.J.’s Diner. It’s been an exhausting 24 hours. They’re both starving. The scene cuts in as a waitress sets down a plate of bacon and eggs for Ron and a waffle topped with a ludicrous amount of whipped cream for Leslie.

Leslie wastes no time in digging in. Mid-bite, she looks to Ron, shaking her head in wonder: “Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?”

Excellent question.

This scene resonates with me. Like Leslie, I, too, could eat breakfast foods for every meal of the day and quite literally never get bored. That’s why I’m so thrilled about South Bend’s newest diner, Yellow Cat Cafe, which opened its doors just last month.

Walk into the Yellow Cat, and you can immediately tell it’s a diner. It’s everything you would expect: Menus hang on a hook on the wall next to the seats. There are booths with bright red leather seats and cheerful yellow and red chairs in front, with seating for larger groups in the back. The wood-paneled walls boast an eclectic mix of vintage food signs and more food-themed posters. The front wall’s posters adhere to one theme, naturally, coffee: “The Best Hot Coffee in Town,” “Just Give Me Coffee and Nobody Gets Hurt” and “Coffee! If you’re not shaking, you need another cup.”

To anticipate your next question — yes, Yellow Cat has delicious coffee, as of course any good diner should. Beyond coffee, every meal I’ve had at the Yellow Cat has been delicious. The cafe offers a breakfast and lunch menu with standard diner fare at exceptionally reasonable prices. My eggs were cooked perfectly and the bacon was crispy and flavorful. Everyone at my table gave their own meals a solid two thumbs up.

Staying faithful to its name, yellow as a motif repeats everywhere throughout the space, from the seats and the wall to the menus themselves. The quirky, charming stick-figure cat in the Yellow Cat logo also crops up in unexpected places — small yellow buckets painted with the cat design hold creamers on every table, contributing little pops of color and warmth around the room. The outside of the building itself is a striking dash of yellow against a spare concrete parking lot. It’s difficult not to have your mood lifted just by driving up and walking in.

Yellow Cat Café represents the second project of owner Stacey Wilson. Wilson owns a sister cafe in the area, Lincolnway Café in Mishawaka, founded in 1991. She hopes to model Yellow Cat after its sister cafe’s successes. On the GoFundMe page for the Cafe, Wilson wrote about her vision for the place: “a diner where good friends meet, everyone knows your favorite breakfast order and your name.”

Think for a second about sitcoms and food for a second. “Parks and Recreation,” the one we’ve already mentioned, has J.J.’s. “Seinfeld” has Monk’s. “Gilmore Girls” has Luke’s Diner. “Cheers” has, well, Cheers. The list goes on. These shows, and sitcoms as a genre, rely on the relationships between characters to sustain the very fabric and essence of the show. In fiction, places like cafes and diners function not only as a constant backdrop for conversation but as a unifier, a relaxed space conducive to the forming and sustaining of communities.

This works in real life, too: Sometimes, diners become more than just diners. I’m excited about Yellow Cat in large part because I’m convinced that it has the potential to fill that role. In an article in the South Bend Tribune, Wilson mentioned that she’s selling personalized Yellow Cat Café mugs for $200 — which you can use to get free coffee or tea at the Yellow Cat for the rest of your life. Yellow Cat, in other words, has a uniquely personal goal in mind: to become a second home for you and your loved ones.

In the scene at J.J.’s Diner, Ron answers Leslie’s question — “Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?” — without skipping a beat.

“People are idiots, Leslie,” he deadpans. Ron takes a bite of bacon and a smile creeps across his face. Leslie grins happily and nods back energetically, her cheeks already bulging with waffles and whipped cream. They had a long and exhausting night, but things are looking up. They’re together. They’re eating breakfast food. And best of all, they’re together and eating breakfast food at their favorite local diner. In other words, they’re home.

Yellow Cat Cafe is located at 808 E. Colfax Avenue, South Bend, IN, less than 2 miles from Main Circle. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. (574) 233-2233. 

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