For 120 years, people passing by a one-story building at the corner of LaSalle and Niles avenues in South Bend could peer into large-pane windows to watch as metal was crafted for many important buildings — some of which shaped the landscape of the South Bend.

Crafting metal for everything from schools and libraries to plow factories and churches, the J.C. Lauber Company grew rapidly from its inception in 1900, earning the business such clout that in 1961, the company was hired to apply gold leaf to the dome at the Sacred Heart of Mary Church on Notre Dame’s campus.

Through the same windows today, a new hubbub of activity fills the historic space.

The once constant clunking of machinery on metal has been replaced by the clink of glasses tapped before first sips. The careful conversations of professionals at work have been replaced by laughs of diners winding down with a meal. Where vehicles once transported products in and out of the plant, patrons now toss bags on cornhole boards, chastising comrades on a gaming patio designed for friendly competition.

J.C. Lauber is now home to The Lauber Kitchen & Bar, which shares the building with CityWide Liquors. The Lauber was cooked up by a group of experienced restaurateurs, including co-owners Frank and Jennifer Perri, managing partner Jerry Paliga and partner Patrick Wittling.

“The building was established in 1999 on the National Historical Registry, and [Frank] was very interested in repurposing the building for a new business,” Patrick says.

No stranger to South Bend’s restaurant scene, Patrick has served in a number of management roles at local establishments like Basils on the Race and Café Navarre. In his career, he has watched the evolution of South Bend, and seen a change in the East Bank neighborhood.

“There’s more of an influx of residential space, whether it’s rentals or condominiums on the East Bank. … There’s been a re-gentrification of the East Bank Village. We saw the need for a centrally located neighborhood restaurant.”

Just across the street from the Lauber, East Bank Village apartments continue to fill up with people of all ages interested in living as close to the downtown action as they can. The Lauber is surrounded by multiple other food options, including longtime mainstays Macri’s, Carmella’s, Sunny Italy and Corby’s, and some newer spots like Render, the General and Hammer and Quill. Soon, Howard Park will reopen with opportunities for all sorts of activities, including a $3 million ice skating rink, trail and pond.

The Perris own multiple buildings in the East Bank neighborhood, and were inspired to make the Lauber building a pizza joint due to managing partner Jerry Paliga’s experience in the pizza industry.

“What we tried to do is bring a unique space with a lot of history, and repurpose it to a fashion that would welcome families,” Patrick says.

True to their vision, The Lauber has the feel of a central hub. Outside, a dog-friendly gaming patio complete with yard games gives the restaurant a relaxed, homey feel — a destination for young and old alike to enjoy time with family and friends.

“People will walk down from their houses and hang out and meet neighbors,” Patrick says. “We’ve got neighbors with kids who come in here and use the patio with their dogs. … It really is a neighborhood place.”

Complementing the family atmosphere, the menu is designed to satisfy a variety of palettes and dietary needs. Even the pickiest eaters will be satisfied by customizing their own “Windy City style” thin crust pizza. Toppings include all of the classics, including a house-made cheese blend and fresh signature Italian sausage.

“We believe in using fresh products to create fresh dishes,” Patrick says.

More adventurous diners can try hand-crafted concoctions designed by Lauber chefs. The popular Green Goat features basil pesto, arugula and avocado, topped with goat cheese, parmesan and fresh mozzarella. The Tequila Lime artisan pizza features a pepper ranch sauce, topped with shrimp, tomato, cilantro, avocado, red onion and fresh squeezed lime. 

“We do have a couple of vegetarian and gluten free options,” Patrick says. “We offer a cauliflower crust for artisan pizzas for those that are gluten free, and we have five signature salads.”

In addition to the pizza menu, patrons can choose from a variety of appetizers and handhelds, including Patrick’s favorite, the prime melt — a dry aged prime rib sandwich with Italian beef and mozzarella, served with au jus.

“We feature craft cocktails, 24 beers on tap and another 30 bottle and can selections for beer,” Patrick says. “We have a good wine list with about 14 wines by the glass and another 20 bottle offerings.”

Perhaps the biggest bang for your buck is the Tin Can Nachos. A play off of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” star Guy Fieri’s signature dish, nacho chips are layered with veggies, house made salsa verde, a beef and bean blend and queso fresco, then stacked inside a metal coffee can. When servers remove the can from the plate, jaws drop and mouths water as the mountain of an appetizer is revealed.

On warm days, garage doors open to extend the dining room area to a dining patio on one side of the building, while families enjoy lawn games on the other side of the building. In a neighborhood once filled with families of employees of the historic manufacturer, The Lauber Kitchen & Bar pays homage to the past, offering a centralized hub where memories are made and bellies are filled. χ