Fine American food with a view

Published 10:44 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Off the Water photo/CRAIG HAUPERT Running RyeBelles, a new restaurant in downtown St. Joseph, is a family affair for owner Jim Champion, on the far left. From the middle left, Champion’s sister, Lisa Gresens, niece, Sarah Cournoyer and nephew, Nathaniel Bishop, all help with the day-to-day operations.

ST. JOSEPH — Perched on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan, RyeBelles restaurant in St. Joseph has a view that is second to none.

Owner Jim Champion says the food is pretty good, too.

“You aren’t going to walk away disappointed,” he said.

Jay Cimala cooks a handmade pizza in RyeBelles’ stone fire oven Friday evening. Off the Water photo/ CRAIG HAUPERT

RyeBelles opened its doors in November at 518 Broad St. in downtown St. Joseph.

It serves fine American cuisine, from steaks, to chops, to hamburgers, seafood and handmade pizza cooked in a stone-fire oven.

“It is an upscale atmosphere with prices that aren’t too heavy,” Champion said.

“It is someplace you can come eat on a Tuesday or Wednesday night without thinking it’s too expensive for the weekdays.”

Located on the second floor of the old Elks Lodge, RyeBelles has a large roof-deck patio allowing patrons a panoramic view of Silver Beach and Lake Michigan in the spring, summer and fall.

Inside, the restaurant has a warm, cozy feel with tables surrounding a good-sized bar area in the middle. A brick-lined gas fireplace and dim lighting adds to the charm.

“I am trying to cultivate a good winter crowd, knowing that the summers are probably going to take care of themselves,” said Champion, who is no stranger to the restaurant business. He owned a restaurant in Grosse Point Woods for many years before selling it in 2007.
St. Joseph is the perfect fit for his new venture, he says.

“St. Joe has a great river, great beaches, and it is becoming more of a tourist town every year,” Champion said. “It is getting busier and busier every summer, and I feel they needed more restaurants in town.”

Champion’s family is involved in the day-to-day operations. It is not unusual to see his sister, Lisa Gresens, nephew, Nathaniel Bishop, and niece, Sarah Cournoyer, lending a hand in the restaurant.

“It really is a family operation,” Champion said. “If you don’t have family, it is pretty tough to run an independent restaurant. With all the hours you have to put in and to be on top of everything, you need family.”

RyeBelles’ winter hours are from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Champion said RyeBelles will open for lunch once the weather warms.