The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 12:01 am

Area spots scramble amid virus restrictions


Pi Day. Lenten menus. A special dinner at Joseph Decuis. Those were some of the items in my March 11 column.

My, how things have changed in a week.

On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced new precautions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, closing bars and restaurants to in-person dining.

It was a move that many were anticipating but nonetheless will be far-reaching. Some establishments such as Saigon on Calhoun Street closed before the mandate. Others began promoting carryout and delivery options in an effort to get ahead of the curve.

But with the mandate, every restaurant has faced a decision as to whether to shut down or rely on carryout and delivery.

These are some of their stories:

• Mark Melchi had a feeling last week the restaurant regulations would be sweeping. Business had been strong at the Lucky Moose. He said February was the best month in all his years in the business. And up until Friday, sales were strong. On Saturday, they dropped more than 30%.

So on Sunday night, unable to sleep, he began to develop the response for the Lucky Moose, but he waited until the state made the announcement Monday to share the plan with his team.

“I didn't want to scare the employees,” the veteran restaurateur says.

The restaurant at 622 E. Dupont Road will offer carryout and delivery from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m. daily. Patrons can pick up food inside or wait in the parking lot.

Melchi says servers have volunteered to deliver food, and other workers can come in to clean. A normal schedule, though, will be impossible to maintain. The restaurant has 31 employees, and he does not anticipate enough carryout business to keep them busy.

“This situation is particularly hard on independent restaurants,” Melchi says.

• “How are you?” “I woke up and realized I need to do something.” “We are worried for you and our other small shops.”

The comments came from weekend visitors to Zinnia's Bakehouse on East Wayne Street. Krystal Vega, who owns the bakery, was touched by the sentiment from her customers as uncertainty was looming.

On Sunday night, she shared that restaurants were waiting to hear what the requirements from the government would be. Less than 24 hours later, she found out.

“The food and drink community is working hard at this moment behind the scenes to pull together, via (a Facebook) group,” she said. “Ideas are being shared.”

The collaboration was not surprising – “because that's who we are as a community, this industry,” Vega said.

On Sunday, the plan was to add curbside pickup. On Monday night, she made the decision to close operations for the time being.

“Fort Wayne is worth anything we need to do to keep us clean, safe, fed and moving forward,” Vega says.

• Marcus Spillson had preemptively closed dining room service over the weekend at '07 Pub, a popular spot at Broadway and Bluffton Road.

He announced, though, that carryout would be available from 4 to 9 p.m. daily.

“My biggest fear was having 100 people in the building on St. Patrick's Day,” he says, “and the potential health ramifications for the community.”

But the pub owner did have an update for patrons Monday. He was starting a fund to help staff members affected by the change.

Spillson, in a Facbook post, shared that 100% of sales and tips will be deposited into this fund and distributed to affected employees.

“I came to the decision because our patrons and the community have been so good to us,” Spillson says. “Our employees are a part of this community and the next few months are going to be difficult for everyone.”

The '07 Pub is also investigating delivery within a certain area and expanding carryout to lunch on the weekends.

Umi Fort Wayne announced a similar move, creating an employee assistance fund. The restaurant is donating $15,000 to start, as well as 10% of all carryout orders until further notice.

“This fund will support our staff who face critical needs during this time,” the restaurant posted on Facebook.

In addition to Grubhub and Waiter on the Way deliveries, the 2912 Getz Road restaurant will offer curbside takeout orders from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Bravas and Tolon have also set up online tip jars and funds for their employees.

• The management at Auburn City Steakhouse has temporarily laid off 31 employees. They were allowed to take home all perishable food in the restaurant, worth $10,000.

In a message on Facebook, the restaurant said money from all gift cards sold will go to paying the workers' wages during the mandated closure. Gift cards can be bought by phone at 260-333-7337, at or in person from 4 to 7 p.m. at 203 Main St. in Auburn.

• Thomas Parisi was out of town when the governor announced that restaurants would have to close in-person dining. But the director of Casa Restaurants was working closely with the Casaburo family to adhere to the new state and local mandates.

The restaurant group will offer carryout, curbside delivery and home delivery via Waiter on the Way and DoorDash. Hours will be limited to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We presently service approximately 32 percent of our guests through carryout and delivery and are well prepared to meet the need of our community,” Parisi says. “God bless us all during these trying times.”

Casa's executives will meet with managers today as they try to navigate the mandates.

The Club Room at The Clyde, which has been a venue for a night out, will pivot to offer carryout service only. Hours will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In addition to plans for delivery, the Club Room is adding more moderately priced healthy items.

Heather Herron, vice president of communications for Sweetwater Sound Inc., says staff meetings are held daily to update and review precautionary procedures.

• Steve Gard at Oyster Bar, 1830 S. Calhoun St., says the restaurant will be open for carryout from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Fridays, and 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is offering a 10% discount on food, beer and wine. The kitchen will produce a limited menu, which will be posted on its Facebook page and website, Call 744-9490 with orders.

Sapporo Steakhouse, 6150 Lima Road, will be open for carryout from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Keeping updated

Members of the online community are rallying around local restaurants via a new Facebook group.

Open to the public, 2GoFW was started to be a “community resource for up-to-date local restaurant, bar, brewery, and cafe listings during the State directive from Indiana Governor Holcomb, which states restaurants and bars be closed to in-person patrons until March 31.”

Mary Corinne Lowenstein, director of marketing for Hop River Brewing Co., started the group.

“It's such a difficult time,” she says. “We want to reach out and support one another, but we physically can't do that. We have to use the tools we have to comfort each other from a distance.”

There were more than 3,000 members by Tuesday morning, with the number growing by the hour.

“Everything has seemed to move so quickly, I think a lot of us are numb,” Lowenstein says. “We don't know the extent of the impact and just working on updates by the hour. The (Facebook) group was created to help pass along those changes to our community that supports every day.”

At Hop River, Lowenstein says the staff was taking a day to organize its takeout and delivery options. The brewery hopes to have ordering/paying options online and over the phone by today.

“We have various ideas on how to meet our community's needs as we navigate this new territory,” she says. “All of us are thinking outside of the box where we can. “

Posts in 2GoFW are devoted to restaurants and businesses that are offering carryout and delivery while adjusting to the regulations. It's a place to stay up to date as the situation is fluid.

The 2GoFW page can be found at or search “2GoFW” on Facebook.

Food for kids

Several local restaurants are stepping up to help feed the community while schools are closed.

“We know that there is a concern about getting some kids in the community a good lunch,” Lucille's BBQ shared in a Facebook post Saturday. “We want (to) help those families in the community we serve.”

The restaurant at 9011 Lima Road is offering a free sack lunch for children in need. The lunches will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

All Elmo's Pizza and Subs locations and the Subway in Lassus, 7405 Maplecrest Road, will offer free bagged lunches while school is out. The meals will be available all day, Monday through Friday.

Caliente Cuban, 120 W. Wayne St., will give children a free bagged lunch – half grilled cheese or ham and cheese with chips.

“We will also be taking monetary donations from those who are able to help cover the cost of these meals, but there is no financial obligation for your (children) to get one lunch per day on us for the duration of the schools' closure,” the restaurant shared.

Dairy Queen locations at 1818 Coliseum Blvd. N.,7403 Maplecrest Road, 10180 Maysville Road, 501 Lower Huntington Road and 5115 E. Dupont Road, as well as in Decatur and Bluffton, are offering free meals for children in prekindergaten through fifth grade until schools are back in session. No purchase is necessary, and children must be accompanied by a parent or caregiver.

Other reactions

• Ahead of the state mandate, Joseph Decuis canceled its dinner highlighting Australia with the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo that was planned for Friday. It will be rescheduled.

• Grubhub is deferring commission fees for impacted independent restaurants. The delivery service says delaying its revenue will increase cash flow for restaurants, allowing them to better weather the situation. It has also started a Grubhub Community Relief Fund. All contributions made by rounding up order totals will go to charitable organizations that support drivers and restaurants affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

• Dairy Queen is postponing this year's Free Cone Day, which was scheduled for Thursday in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Around town

Jack's Donuts, which just opened Thursday at 6731 W. Jefferson Blvd., will offer carryout.

• The corporate office for Joella's Hot Chicken announced that the brand will not open a location at Jefferson Pointe. Joella's cited “unforeseen construction costs” related to remodeling the former Bob Evans building.

The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email or call 461-8304 at least two weeks before event or desired publication.

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