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My first memory of cooking was at my mom’s side in Elgin, IL, smelling the large bubbling pot of marinara, simmering for hours on the gas stove, the wooden spoon balancing on the edge of the large pot. One of my brothers came into the kitchen wanting a taste, not able to contain himself and knowing he would get in trouble, he tore off a piece of bread and swiped it along the sweet-savory edge. At the nearby counter my mom and I were rolling out gnocchi with just the right amount of flour on the over-sized wooden board. She’d say, “look at momma, see how I put my hands like this…” her hands, side-by-side, delicately, but purposefully rolling out the long strands of dough. Then she used this now flour coated tiny paring knife with a dark wooden handle to cut the strands into little pillows. I wanted to do it just like her. All-the-while this going on she was humming songs like “Volare.”   Just one of our my many, many moments like this together.

When we were children playing outside after school, my mom would call out “Anthony, Gregory, Vivian, Mary Beth!” and we’d come running. Everyone always sat at the table for dinner. We had a nice salad, sometimes with dandelion greens she picked from the yard. She didn’t like iceberg, which everyone else was eating at that time, it didn’t have any flavor or nutrition, she said. Whatever we were having, it was nutritious and made with great care.

Luisa’s Café started with my mom her love of Michigan, it reminded her of hometown in Italy…by the water, rolling hills, vineyards, and orchards. She bought the Harbert Swedish Bakery in 2001 and had the dream of opening a restaurant attached to it.

Coming to this country from Italy at the age of fourteen, she brought with her cooking skills from home, along with a passion to nurture others. She carried with her the dream of opening her own restaurant. Less than a year after she bought the bakery she opened Luisa’s Café for lunch and dinner, Italian style. The work was overwhelming, running a bakery and a restaurant, so when she closed the restaurant for the season, she was going to close it for good.

This is where I come in … I was working in Chicago in the corporate world and wanted a change. I, like my mother, always had a passion for cooking and nurturing people. I used to travel a lot for work and often ate out for breakfast. I sought out the small, family-run cafes. They were hard to find. I thought one day I would open the type of café I was seeking. Using only fresh, natural, simple ingredients, served in a clean, friendly place.

Attached to the Harbert Swedish Bakery…

The Harbert Swedish Bakery started with the Erickson’s (of Chicago) dream of having a home in Harbert.    They bought 40 acres of land in 1912 and built the Bakery and ran it for a couple of decades.

The Bakery since has had four different owners who passed on the recipes and techniques to each successor.

Luisa also had a dream of having a restaurant in southwest Michigan. When she saw the bakery, she knew this was the one and she bought it in 2001.

Today, you can walk into the Harbert Swedish Bakery and still see some of the treats they were making 100 years ago…Swedish Limpa and Sweet Rye, Cardamom Coffee Cakes, Fruit Pastries, and Ginger Molasses Cookies to name a few. Stop in today and take a bite out of history.



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Luisa’s Café

13698 Red Arrow Hwy.

Harbert, MI  49115



We are closed until February 15th.


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