The goofy red sign off State Road 23 still says “Eddie’s Steak Shed,” just as it always has. The thank-you plaques for sponsoring the county Little League are still in the front entrance, alongside 15 years’ worth of stickers honoring the steaks as the area’s best.
But farther inside, most everything has changed in the year since the old owner was detained, then deported, as part of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants by a tough-talking new president.
Roberto Beristain, a former dishwasher who worked until he could afford to buy the place, was gone. In his place were refurbished wood-paneled walls, a bar with a granite counter and a new pork chop entree. Even the name had been changed with something snappier, sleeker — Eddie’s was now simply, “The Shed.”
“I love what you did to the place!” Heather Pepper, 47, exclaimed to the bartender on a recent night. “It looks so updated, and it still feels local.”
As soon as he was detained, Beristain became a cause. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and immigration activists held him up as an example of what they said were exceedingly cruel new actions by President Trump. They said his aggressive efforts would ensnare good people, rip apart families and lead vengeful communities to exact their furor at the ballot box — the same points Democrats have used to argue against deporting hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” and other endangered immigrants.
In Granger, though, there are few signs of lingering resentment. The calls threatening the restaurant stopped long ago, as did the ones in support of Beristain. A local businessman bought Eddie’s, gave it a new name and a new look. Beristain is now in Mexico, desperate to return.
Few customers in this mostly white, conservative suburb outside South Bend had known Beristain, 44, was an undocumented Mexican immigrant. He had paid taxes, started a family and employed 20 people. His family says his only crime was living in the country illegally.
“I felt bad for the people in the situation, but the law is the law, no matter how inconvenient,” said Mike Probst, 61, who owns a business selling boxes. “The world was focused on little Granger for a little bit, but the mood in the community is that we had to move on. Everyone has to move on.”
In July, Beristain’s wife, Helen, and their three young children also moved on, leaving Granger to join him in Mexico. “If we are not together, what kind of family is that?” she said in a phone interview. In the municipality of Zamora de Hidalgo, the couple started a small pancake house to offset the lawyer fees. Their children take classes online because their parents fear they’d be targeted as Americans attending school in Mexico.
At The Shed, talk of the Beristains has been narrowed to quiet corners, where employees were unwilling to share their full names, fearing more threatening calls and comments like the ones that came in a year ago.
One of two women on staff named Jackie recalled how he was such a clean cook that he could stand over the grill in his white uniform and not get stained.
Another wondered why so many Latinos were getting deported. “With Trump in office,” she said, “Sometimes it just feels like if you’re white, you’re right.”
Cindy bragged about taking a picture with Anderson Cooper, who came to visit for an episode of “60 Minutes.” She hoped that the president, the courts, someone, would grant leniency for Beristain. Zach insisted that there had to be more to the case. “If you do right, then you wouldn’t have a problem,” he said.
The other Jackie was offended by the idea that Beristain’s record was anything but as clean as his kitchen.
“Everyone,” she said, “is forgetting who he is.”
Beristain had only owned the restaurant a few months. He bought it in January 2017 from his wife’s sister and his brother-in-law, who wanted to retire after decades running and selling restaurants in the Midwest. They had hired Roberto at another restaurant in 2000. He was an industrious dishwasher who worked his way up to head cook, and into Helen’s heart.
“We loved Roberto from the moment we met him,” said his sister-in-law, Efigenea Limberopolous, who is 58. “Always smiling, he was always smiling.”
The immigration trouble started in February 2000, when the couple made a wrong turn on the way to Niagara Falls and ended up at a border crossing, according to their attorney Adam Ansari. Agents discovered Roberto had no passport, green card or ID, and a judge ordered him to return to Mexico by the end of the year.
But Roberto never left. Helen was expecting their first child, and doctors deemed hers a “high-risk pregnancy.” He didn’t want to leave his wife alone. Then, Maria was born, and they couldn’t imagine raising her in Mexico. They wanted to keep up the family business. And they wanted to stay in Indiana.
“I didn’t even see Roberto as Mexican,” said Angela Banfi, a friend and waitress at the restaurant. “He was not one of those Mexicans. He was like a white boy to me.”
For customers, Eddie’s became the go-to place for an easy breakfast or a good meal. Granger was growing. Subdivisions were popping up farther north. The Olive Gardens and TGI Fridays of the world were encroaching on the area, but Eddie’s stayed the same. Same old wood panels, same flooring, same waitresses who knew your order and your name and the same chef who’d invite you to his wedding.
“It was a steak place, but you felt like it was more of a home,” said Chuck Matheny, 61, a systems engineer who ate at Eddie’s three times a week.
Conversations were usually light and frivolous, he said, until 2016 when customers became captivated by Donald Trump. Matheny and Helen, both Republicans, reaffirmed each other’s support for the Republican nominee. Her husband was less sanguine: Trump, he said, would kick out all of the Mexicans.
“Only the bad ones,” Matheny recalled insisting.
“We need to do something to help end prejudice,” Matheny says now. “If there are so many illegal people in the country, then it gives license to believe every immigrant is illegal.”
Matheny knew Roberto was trying to get his green card through his marriage to Helen, a Greek immigrant who moved to the country illegally in the 1970s and has since become a citizen.
What he didn’t know was that Roberto had retained an immigration lawyer in Miami and traveled there to check in with him and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement each year. During the Obama administration, his attorney said, they deferred action and authorized a driver’s license and a work permit for him.
Less than a month into the new administration, the Beristains drove to Miami, and agents suggested he visit his regional office in Indianapolis instead. The couple drove to the ICE office. Roberto went inside; Helen waited in the car.
After 45 minutes, an officer told Helen her husband was not leaving the premises.
Banfi was at Eddie’s when she received the text.
“Detained?” Banfi recalled. “I had the worst anxiety in the frickin’ world. I loved Roberto. He was my family. This couldn’t be right.”
Banfi was so distraught she called Matheny.
“It changed my view on how the country treats its immigrants,” he said. “I thought they would go after, like Trump said, those who were bringing in drugs and the rapists. But they went after a regular guy who just cared about living the American Dream.”
The calls started coming in from the local television stations and then from around the nation. A lawyer took up their case. A letter-writing campaign soon commenced to the mayor of South Bend — the city next door — and to Trump himself.
The phones at Eddie’s wouldn’t stop ringing, though most were liberals who had called to berate Helen for voting for Trump.
Guests dropped off everything from rosary beads to checks, but fewer were sitting down for a meal. The national political conversation had swallowed up the humble restaurant, and diners started to stay away.
Last summer, Helen decided she had no choice but to sell. The employees would be able to stay, but she was leaving to be with her husband.
“I liked the business, I bought the business, and I fixed it,” said Tom Samoilis, the new owner. “I’m not here to solve problems with Trump, or with Obama. . . . I’m here to update a restaurant the community loves.”
Limberopolous is eager for her sister’s return. Walking through the supermarket, she ran into an old friend, who asked how her brother-in-law was doing.
“It’s a very slow process,” she responded, as she shopped with her daughter. “But we can never lose faith, or hope. Because then we have lost the feeling, the feeling that things can get better in this country. There’s a lot going in this country, but we have to handle problems, one by one, thinking about people.”
Underneath that hope, though, the family said the experience revealed an ugliness in America they did not know existed. “Your father is a criminal!” is how children at school teased Helen and Roberto’s daughter. Roberto’s wife and her sister had both moved to the United States illegally from Greece, but they believed their ambition led to their amnesty. They couldn’t imagine that would no longer be the case.
“Seven jails,” her daughter, Kathy Anagnos, 39, said. “They put him in seven different jails and then deported him and left him with nothing.
“Sometimes, you think about it, and you get a little depressed again,” she added.
“We have to think about it,” her mother replied. “Because it’s not just our family, it’s going to be millions of families who are affected by it. If we don’t think about it, nothing will change.”
The customers were slowly returning to The Shed, where Heather Pepper and her husband, Todd, waited for the steak for two on a February night.
Heather, a nurse, and Todd, a medical technician, wondered about the balance between subsidized health care and personal responsibility. Barely a mile up the road, the fire station was hosting a pill drop-off to help fight the opioid crisis.
And on television, they watched high school students in Florida, just a little younger than their own children, push for gun control after police say a former classmate went to school and killed 17 of their friends and teachers.
The Peppers didn’t want the government taking away their guns, nor did they want to pay for the health care of those who aren’t trying to stay healthy. Those ideas were simple. Illegal immigration, both said, was much trickier.
“The bad ones definitely should go,” Heather said. “But we have so many good ones. Look at all those kids, the dreamers. Who knows what to do with them?”
Todd tried to distance the conversation from people they knew — it was too difficult when they made it about Roberto, or anyone else in their community.
“Let’s imagine there’s a boat and it’s sinking,” he said. “And there are nine people on the boat, but there are three other people who are drowning in the water. You can’t save everyone . . .”
“But what if those people in the water are doctors, lawyers or teachers?” Heather said. “Maybe it’s some of the people on the boat who should make room.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“This boat stuff is too sad,” the man next to them said. “Now I’m depressed.”
The next day, Banfi tied her hair into a ponytail, put on a black uniform and headed for work.
She jumped into her car and drove along State Road 23 to The Shed — and kept driving. She had taken a new job in a restaurant a quarter-mile down the street.
She couldn’t bring herself to go back to a place that meant so much to Roberto and his family. Still, she wasn’t sure whom to blame or why for his return.
“They say it’s Trump, but I don’t know if it’s Trump,” Banfi said. “All I know is, I want them back home.”
That day, she worked a double shift at Beef O’Brady’s, where families were starting to pile in for trivia night. In the evening, as the host pitched questions about which country invented the bobsled and what state is the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, Banfi walked to the soda fountain and filled a red glass with iced tea.
It belonged to Matheny, one of the regulars at Eddie’s. He couldn’t bring himself to go back either. But his fury over Trump’s decision has subsided. Immigration, he said, was a theoretical issue. What he sees around him each day is a stronger country.
“The truth is, we are focused on a lot of the bad in this country, but a lot of things are going great,” Matheny said. “No one wants to admit the economy is better, but it’s better. My taxes are down. Roberto is gone, but there’s reason to be optimistic. I prefer to be optimistic.”