Lydia’s offers down home cooking

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

Owner Aaron Smith takes care of his customers at lunchtime in Lydia’s. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Owner Aaron Smith takes care of his customers at lunchtime in Lydia’s. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

BRIDGMAN — If you’re looking for some comfort food to get you through this long winter, you may want to head over to Lydia’s Down Home Cooking in Bridgman.

“We wanted to bring old-fashioned home cooking back,” said owner Aaron Smith. “Pretty much everything here is made from scratch.”

The restaurant, which opened at 9804 Red Arrow Highway on July 1, serves American and Mexican food.

“We’re known for our soups and cakes,” Smith said. “Everybody thrives on our soups. One big sale was when someone came in and bought two 5-gallon containers of our soup for a party. That’s how much people like it.”

Lydia’s is open for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays through Tuesdays, and they add dinner to their offerings from Wednesday through Friday, staying open until 8 p.m. on those evenings.

As with most restaurants in an area known for summer tourism, business slowed down through the winter.

“This winter’s been slow, but it’s starting to pick up again,” Smith said, glancing around the full dining room.

Business has been going so well, in fact, that Smith is in the process of adding onto the building.

“That will give us a bigger kitchen and a bakery,” Smith said. “Our kitchen is so small right now that we can’t put everything we make on our menu.”

However, Smith and his staff aim to please, and they are happy to make whatever a customer might have a hankering for.

“You can order whatever you want, whether it’s on the menu or not, like chop steak, for example,” Smith said. “If we have the ingredients, we’ll make it to order.”

Other future plans include adding a lunch counter and a salad bar. That is on top of the full remodel that Smith completed before opening Lydia’s. The walls are freshly painted in bright colors, and the work of local artists decorates them.

“We remodeled the restaurant, put in new carpet, new mechanicals, and we offer a totally different menu,” Smith said, referring to restaurants that have occupied that same location in the past.

Smith, who also works as a mechanic at Lakeland Hospital in Niles, has invested his retirement savings in the business to make his dream a reality. It is, in fact, a dream that has been passed down in the Smith family.

“My father always said he’d like to open a restaurant,” Smith said. “I always cooked in large portions at home. Then, I got my first cooking job in a real restaurant, and I really liked that.”

After many years of cooking at several other local restaurants and earning his ServSafe certification, Smith got the opportunity to purchase the property where Lydia’s stands.

“The price was right, the timing was good, and we decided to do it,” Smith said. “I invested in it as my retirement.”

So far, the reality of Smith’s dream is taking fine shape, with the support of his family and his staff.

“It’s my dad’s dream,” said son Nathan, who works as a cook at Lydia’s. “Of course, I support the family in anything they want to do.”

The rest of the family has also gotten involved. Wife Debbie bakes famous cakes and pies for the restaurant, relying on her grandmother’s recipes. Son Kevin also works at the restaurant. Even Lydia, Smith’s 11-year-old daughter for whom the restaurant is named, has a role to play.

“She buses tables and rolls silverware with me,” Smith said. “She likes it.”

Smith also credits his staff with the success of the venture.

“I have a great staff,” Smith said. “I’m only as strong as my staff.”

Lydia’s offers specials every day of the week, including “Wrap Wednesday,” when all wraps are just $7, Taco Thursday, when tacos are just $.99 each, and their popular Friday fish fry for $8.50. The restaurant can be reached at (269) 266-7337, and they also have a Facebook page.

“It’s going well,” Smith said. “I enjoy the people that come in here and their stories.”