Trio's Restaurant & Jazz Club

By+Kathe Brunton

Growing up in Chicago, Herb Wilson and his four brothers were raised by classically trained musician parents. It wasn’t surprising, then, that Mom and Dad Wilson required each boy to take lessons in an instrument of their choice.

Herb started out on the clarinet, then segued to the piano and violin. It was while attending college, though, that he first played an electric bass.

The deep resonance of the stringed instrument seemed to suit him. “Bass players tend to be low key,” he said, “and the bass provides a strong and steady foundation for the group. I guess I’m like that.”
After college, Herb spent 28 years in South Bend working in information technology. In his off hours, he played both electric and acoustic bass, doing everything from jazz, R&B and blues, to rock, fusion and gospel. All along, he dreamed of owning his own restaurant / jazz club, where he could perform as well as feature other musicians.

When he retired from the corporate world a few years ago, Herb knew it was time to pursue his dream. So he joined forces with Mike Lafollette, a “numbers guy” and former coworker.

The two partners researched the restaurant business, consulted with experts, and looked at several buildings for sale. One day, Herb was walking down Michigan Street and came upon an empty building. When he toured the interior, he found a cramped space that had been divided into 24 small offices. But Herb saw potential – and the glimmer of his dream coming true.

“I didn’t realize it until later,” he said, “but that building held some personal history for me. It used to be Vegetable Buddies (a popular music venue) and I played there.”

The location was ideal. “It was in the heart of downtown and between a couple hotels. And it was near the Morris, a very active area,” said Herb. “We also could offer decent parking with a lot behind us and the Marriot parking garage across the street.”

After purchasing the building, Herb and Mike had the interior completely gutted and rearranged to accommodate the triad nature of the business: restaurant, jazz club and banquet center. To reflect those three areas, they came up with the name, Trio’s.

On Friday, Nov. 30, 2007, Trio’s debuted to the public. Herb recalled leaving the restaurant at one point to go home and change in preparation for taking the stage in the club. As he drove back, he passed in front of the building. “I saw a roomful of people there to experience Trio’s. It was a proud moment,” he said.

One of Herb’s greatest joys, however, has been bringing in local and regional jazz acts. In fact, Trio’s hosted its first international act – the Paris-based Moutin Reunion Quartet, which was touring the States.

The jazz doesn’t stop with the music, however. Herb describes the menu as “jazz influenced,” with dishes like jambalaya and barbequed pork ribs associated with the jazz towns of New Orleans and Kansas City.

“We wanted everything – the ambiance, the food – to reflect the improvisational concept of jazz,” Herb said. And it does. Trio’s classy interior is warmed by soft lighting and the abstract work of local artists such as Henni Akkerman and Tony Droge.

With nearly a year behind it, Trio’s is blooming nicely, with the musical seeds planted by Herb’s parents finding expression in a dream come true.