spilling the beans
Amazing (thyme of) Grace
Upscale, eclectic dining going strong after 14 years
For Michele Lankford, the owner and head chef at Thyme of Grace, it all began in the garden.
Thyme of Grace in South Bend, IN, is a homey restaurant serving up classics with a contemporary twist: upscale, eclectic dining. Lankford has operated Thyme of Grace for 14 years, dividing her time between catering and a weekday lunch service.
The interior of Thyme of Grace only enhances the sense of a vintage home with a twist. The cozy restaurant features tables decorated with salt shakers that are reminiscent of the ’50s and a vintage wine advertisement featuring Grace Kelly; Frank Sinatra croons softly through speakers. Thyme of Grace is a place to relax, eat a quality meal and feel at home.
“I tell everyone that I may own the place, but I feel like I work for everyone else. This is an ‘all in’ kind of thing,” says Lankford. Laughing, she continues, “I was never smart enough to get out of the restaurant business.”
Lankford’s love for cooking grew out of her green thumb. In her early teens, she spent time at her home in Indiana tilling and planting in her family’s garden, an acre containing cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes and more.
“I cannot tell you how many times I’ve eaten a warm tomato directly plucked from my garden. That’s where this love of food comes from,” says Lankford. “It was a logical transition.”
There’s also a very strong familial influence. “My mom always cooked from scratch, so that was a very easy lead to follow,” she says.
Continuing the family influence, Lankford runs the restaurant with her daughter, Nichole Varga. The two have run Thyme of Grace together for 12 years.
Spending time with her family picking fruit, canning and cooking is what ignited her passion for cooking. Lankford finds her love of cooking in the ownership she gains from gardening—caring for the plants and retaining that respect for the food as she cooks with it.
“I don’t think there’s anything more gratifying—you put seeds in the ground and it feels like magic every time they come up,” Lankford says.
She finds inspiration from the authors of cookbooks like The Silver Palate, a 1980s-era cookbook from a pair of women who brought simple gourmet cooking into the home. Lankford looks to put unique twists on classic home cooking, giving her food an eclectic and captivating taste. She aims to give her food unique flavor profiles and dimension. The restaurant consistently offers a soup trilogy, an ever-changing chicken salad and one of Lankford’s favorites: vegetable moussaka. On the website, the cuisine at Thyme of Grace is described as “a feast for the eyes … fabulously fresh with a mouthwatering taste.”
Catering is a huge part of Thyme of Grace’s business. As a caterer, Lankford loves to build around themes, looking for inspiration all around her. Collaborating with a client provides fresh inspiration for her to work with.
Even though Lankford has found her niche as a chef, it’s not the cooking that she loves most—it’s the community.
“I think food really connects people. That’s the beauty behind all of the hard working and the chopping—it’s nice to have a beautiful-tasting treat at the end, but the connection is what makes it worth it,” says Lankford.
Thyme of Grace sells a mix of salads, sandwiches, soups, desserts and more. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday, or check out ThymeOfGrace.com to set up a catering date.
Thyme of Grace
2714 Mishawaka Ave.
South Bend, IN
Try out Michele Lankford's Spiced Brandy Poached Pears recipe here!