Stepping into Barnaby’s

Nikon F3, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Ilford HP5 Plus @ EI 1600, HC-110 Dilution B, 2023

Dean and his wife Carol moved into the house next to my parents in 1966, in that starter-house neighborhood we called Rabbit Hill in South Bend. Dad and Dean clicked, and began a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.

As a result, while I grew up my family spent a lot of time with their family. They had two daughters about the ages of my brother and me. We saw each other at least weekly because our parents played canasta every Saturday night.

Dean and Carol often coaxed us out to do fun things together. I remember filling trash bags with popcorn to take to a drive-in, all eight of us piled into Dean’s big Vista Cruiser station wagon. We went up to Silver Beach on Lake Michigan once. They were Disneyphiles long before that term was coined, and we saw any number of new Disney movies in the theater. Dean was an artist and art professor at Notre Dame, so we went to galleries and exhibition openings.

Once in a while after a joint family activity Dean convinced my dad to get a meal together someplace. (Dad was famously frugal and would often say, “we have food at home.”) Dean and his family loved Barnaby’s, a pizza place, and that’s often where we went.

Barnaby’s opened in 1969 at the beginning of what I call the “ye olde” phase in restaurants. Old English atmosphere was a giant dining fad in the 1970s. At Barnaby’s in particular, the interior was designed to look like a medieval English pub with lots of exposed timbers and dark wood finishes. The lights were always low inside. Everything from menu to the hours sign on the door was written in pseudo old English.

To order, you went to the counter, pulled a golf pencil out of a cup, and filled out an order sheet. You tore off the bottom, which had a number on it, and when your pizza was ready someone yelled out your number. It always seemed to me as a kid that it took forever for our number to be called! The pizza was always burn-your-mouth hot. The crust was unusual — moderately thick, outright crunchy on the bottom but soft otherwise, with a yeasty flavor. The smoky sauce paired well with the spicy pepperoni.

I didn’t know then that our local Barnaby’s was part of a chain with locations in several states. A franchise operation, initially all Barnaby’s had the same menu and atmosphere. As the years passed the franchise business faltered. A bunch of locations closed, and the ones that remained became independent. Today a quick Web search turns up the South Bend Barnaby’s, of course, plus three in neighboring Mishawaka (two of which opened in recent years), a few in the Chicago suburbs, and one way down in Tallahassee, Florida.

Word is, only the South Bend Barnaby’s still uses the original recipes and retains the original atmosphere and operation. Step into the South Bend Barnaby’s and you step right into 1969.

I have a lot of warm and happy memories of our two families’ time together. It’s unusually easy to reconnect with those good feelings. All I have to do is step into Barnaby’s.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


13 responses to “Stepping into Barnaby’s”

  1. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.

    You’re very lucky to have a personal time machine to transport you back to those happy memories.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s pretty remarkable.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    You’re talking about my neighborhoods in Chicago and Milwaukee until maybe the early 70’s. The decentralization of living situations, via the suburbs and white flight, made this type of relationship with your neighbors lost forever. I’ve met people ten years younger than me, raised in the suburbs, that didn’t even know the people (probably four to six families) on what passed for a block in their neighborhood…we knew the 16 families on both sides of the street on our city block!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I don’t really know any of my neighbors. I know the first name of the wife of the couple next door, and the first name of the guy down the street who restores old cars, but that’s it.

  3. Khürt Williams Avatar

    Seems like you have some good memories Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I do.

  4. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    That’s a neat window/sign, Jim. Great for b/w!

    Reading Andy Umbo’s comment, I feel exceedingly grateful to have both lived in our central city AND have known most of the neighbors in our block for the past twenty years. Dean and Carol sound like they were extra special neighbors and friends, though. Your dad did some carpentry for Notre Dame, right? I could be remembering wrong, but I could’ve sworn that’s something you shared about, in the last year or two. If so, that’s neat that your dad and Dean had that Notre Dame connection.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh yes, that’s right. Dad’s friendship with Dean was a really big deal in our lives when I was growing up.

  5. brandib1977 Avatar

    What lovely memories!! And now I want to visit South Bend……

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s worth a trip. Maybe a long weekend, given how long it would take you to get there.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        I am writing this down. The quest for great pizza continues!

  6. J P Avatar

    I think I ate there within the last couple of years when I met up with one of my kids in South Bend! I thought the food was quite good.

    There are not many places where that old 1970 (or 1670?) vibe is still going on.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a throwback for sure.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: