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Playhouse Reborn

A sample of the food available at The Lucky Wolf.
The Lucky Wolf gives new life to Paw Paw landmark

The imposing brick edifice at 404 E. Michigan Ave. in downtown Paw Paw has housed many establishments and enterprises over the years. It was built in 1857 as First Baptist Church, and then, for 45 years, it was home to the Paw Paw Village Players, a community theater group. Its ground floor has been a candy shop, an interior design firm, a bookstore and a dance-clothing store.

Likewise, its new owners, Jason and India Deibler-Love, have gone through some drastic shifts in the 10 years of their relationship. Before landing in Paw Paw, they lived in Palm Springs, California; New Orleans; New York City; Austin, Texas; and Los Angeles.

In 2021, they found out they were expecting twins, and, like many people during the pandemic, they began to examine their priorities, envisioning a different lifestyle for themselves and their now-5-year-old son, Sebastien Wolf.

“I’d only visited Michigan two times in the middle of winter. I came during probably the worst time as a visitor,” says India, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. “We wanted to have our own property and grow our own food, have animals. Michigan was one of the (possible) states (for doing those things) because of its seasonality.”

Jason grew up in the Detroit area, and proximity to family (“a drive instead of a flight”) was also a factor in the couple’s decision to move to Southwest Michigan. In the summer of 2021 they purchased an 1860 farmhouse outside of Paw Paw, sight unseen.

“We’ve always loved historic buildings and homes,” says Jason. “It needed just enough work that people weren’t buying it.”

They’d never been to Paw Paw either, but they say they were immediately taken with its small-town charm.

“We fell in love with it,” says India. “I was like, ‘It looks like the setting of Gilmore Girls!”

After recuperating from the cross-country move, the couple began to plant seeds for phase two of their plan: starting a business together, something that felt more like a passion project than another job. They originally envisioned opening a hotel or inn — Jason has more than 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, primarily in boutique hotels, while India’s background is in opening and managing specialty coffee shops. They went on the hunt for a suitable building and, after driving by the For Sale sign in front of the Paw Paw Village Playhouse many times, decided to stop by, just in case.

“We both thought, ‘What are we going to do with a playhouse?’” says Jason. “Then we kind of both walked upstairs and were like, ‘What is this?’ It’s a gem.”

India gave birth to twins, Juniper Moon and Henning Rayne, in November 2021, and the couple closed on the building a month later.

“It’s kind of a blur,” says India. “There are certain meetings and things that Jason will tell me happened that I don’t remember. I felt like I was so much more there than I was.”

They spent the next eight months establishing what is now called The Lucky Wolf — a café, market, event space and community hub that the couple hopes will bring new life and energy to the Paw Paw landmark.

“We’ve had people thanking us for building community, creating this place for people to come,” says India. “It’s not like get your coffee and go. It’s a space to really be welcomed and be here.”

The downstairs café is currently open 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. –5 p.m. on Sunday and offers a menu of baked goods, brunch items, specialty coffee drinks and cocktails designed and prepared by India. The menu focuses on unique, fresh preparations using whole foods — like house-made granola, vegan banana bread and toast with almond butter, sliced strawberries and chia seeds, as well as lunchtime staples like grilled cheese and India’s take on the Cubano.

The Lucky Wolf’s coffee and espresso are supplied by Greenglass Coffee Co., another Paw Paw business, and, in addition to all the standard coffee drinks, The Lucky Wolf offers creative options like the “P.S. I Love You A Latte,” a pumpkin spice latte with vanilla ice cream that India says offers a perfect afternoon sugar and coffee pick-me-up.

For the first few months after it opened in September, The Lucky Wolf was open seven days a week, with Jason and India taking on all of the service, food prep and management — a demanding schedule for the parents of three small children.

“We literally are a mom-and-pop business,” says Jason. “We expected to be working a lot in the beginning, to make sure we kicked it off right. I don’t think we would have people coming back for a second, third and fourth time if we didn’t have that.”

The Lucky Wolf doesn’t offer a full bar yet but does have a selection of specialty cocktails, like mimosas, Bloody Marys and beer floats, featuring porter and soft-serve ice cream.

India also has a passion for unique wines, so both the café and the market offer selections of organic, sustainable, “natural” wines that can be hard to find in the area. In addition, the café and market offer spices, candles, olive oil and crackers — ingredients to liven up a gathering or inspire a meal.

The Lucky Wolf has also been building an audience as an event space, in both its downstairs café area and upstairs theater, which seats 161. So far, the venue has hosted touring comedians like Jeff Leeson, glow-in-the-dark dance parties for kids, community theater shows, wreath making and cocktails, and Wine and Vinyl, a wine tasting where guests are encouraged to bring their own records to play. Every Wednesday there’s an open blues jam session, and the couple is hoping to build the infrastructure to be able to host touring bands as well. The plan is to bring a taste of what we might think of as “big-city culture” to small-town Michigan.

“We love where we are. We would never want to live in sprawling Detroit. We love what’s here,” says Jason. “We don’t want to bring that aspect of the cities here but bring great culture, great coffee and great food. There’s no reason you can’t have that.”

The couple are also looking forward to bringing a few staff members into the fold, eventually upgrading the building to make it more accessible, and adding an outdoor patio.

When asked about the future, India describes their mood as “optimistically tired.”

Jessi Phillips

Jessi is a musician, educator and freelance writer who recently returned to Michigan after living in California for over a decade.

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