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Southeast delivery ban scrutinized

– For at least two years, Waiter on the Way has prohibited delivery to parts of Fort Wayne’s south side.

A recent rash of shootings in the area – including one on Tuesday that a left a man dead – now has the business under the microscope.

But owner Derek Berkes said the violence proves his policy of not making restaurant-food home deliveries prudent.

“This isn’t something that just came up,” he said. “We’ve had it in place for about two years. It’s unfortunate some folks are being caught in the middle.”

Some residents are upset that Berkes’ business model makes such exceptions, but he maintains that in “this economy” the last thing a business owner wants to do is alienate customers.

But multiple incidents since 2011 in which his employees were confronted by individuals forced Berkes to put his foot down, he said.

“We had a (female) driver who was going back to the car when this group of guys came up and surrounded her,” Berkes said. “Fortunately, another worker was with her and hit the (car alarm) panic button and they left.”

As a result, the company, 6205 Stoney Creek Drive, doesn’t do business in a 20-block area on the city’s southeast side.

Berkes declined to point out exact locations.

“We do continue to service existing customers,” he said, “but we won’t go out after 4 p.m.” The business currently is not accepting new customers on the southeast side.

Gina Kostoff lives in a neighborhood Berkes is cautious about. She hadn’t used Waiter on the Way for a while, but a month ago called on the business only to find out she should have dialed a few hours earlier.

“They won’t come after 4 p.m.,” said Kostoff, the director of the Urban Enterprise Association. “I understand what’s happening, but I think there are other avenues that can be taken. Crime can happen anywhere.”

True, but attorney Robert Vegeler said Berkes has a right to protect his business.

“This isn’t like redlining or like they’re refusing to serve you at their restaurant. This is venue specific,” said Vegeler, who specializes in discrimination cases. “A person could go to the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission with a complaint … but they would have to sue and those are hard to win.”

At least one business doesn’t offer delivery service on the south side at all. A manager at the Little Caesar’s on East Rudisill said it’s just “store policy.”

John Dortch is president of the Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce and chairman and president of the Southtown Area Business Advisory Committee.

He isn’t pleased by the situation, but gets it. “There’s a difference in discrimination and being concerned for your safety,” Dortch said. “This is something we all need to work on: churches, neighborhood associations, everybody. We have to work together.”

Dortch will be participating in a ride-along Friday with police in an attempt to get a handle on the city’s violent hotspots.

“We’re trying to find out what’s the answer,” Dortch said.

Kostoff hopes she doesn’t become homebound and wants Waiter on the Way after 4 p.m.

“It’s just sad that a handful of people are making it difficult for the rest of us,” she said.

pwyche@jg.net

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