If the variety of new restaurants and eateries that have opened in Fort Wayne over the past year are any indication, the city's food scene continues to grow and evolve.
This past year has seen the opening of such well-known chains as Ruth's Chris Steak House and P.F. Chang's, independent establishments like 2Toms Brewery and Bird + Cleaver and unique dining venues like The Club Room at Clyde Theatre.
Both Ruth's Chris Steak House and 2Toms Brewery just celebrated their first anniversaries and have found the support better than expected.
“We saw Fort Wayne as a very niche market that needed a Ruth's Chris Steak House. We felt that there was a significant opportunity for a fine-dining establishment,” said Kristy Rans, president of Hoosier Hospitality Group, which owns Ruth's Chris. “We saw that the growth of downtown would provide a robust clientele for the restaurant. And after a year, we could not be more thrilled with the reception the restaurant has received.
“Fort Wayne has been a thriving market for us since we opened. We have exceeded our projections for the first year and know we made the right move.”
Rans said that with this summer's opening of Ruth's Chris outdoor patio she expects to see additional growth because Fort Wayne currently has a limited number of outdoor-dining venues. The restaurant is also beginning to market its off-site catering services that Rans believes will allow Ruth's Chris to further strengthen its foothold in the city's dining scene.
“Initially it is scary when a new competitor comes into the market, but everyone has been very welcoming,” Rans said. “We believe that the city can definitely support additional restaurants and that more dining options available only helps Fort Wayne become more of a destination for finding great food.”
Rans said Ruth's Chris has also been successful with its offering of special brunches for Easter and Mother's Day as well as its involvement with Savor Fort Wayne, an annual event produced by Visit Fort Wayne.
“We know restaurants and dining are of huge interest to visitors. It is the largest category of expenditure by visitors, 34% of their spending is for food and beverage,” said Kristen Guthrie, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Fort Wayne.
January's sixth annual Savor Fort Wayne, which consisted of 12 days of specially priced menus, saw an increase in the number of participating restaurants – 56 – and diners who took advantage of the deals.
“We have such amazing restaurants participating and it is great to see residents try new places and taste different cuisines. It has been successful and just continues to grow. We had over 740,000 unique visitors to SavorFortWayne.com in just one month,” Guthrie said.
“Another unique aspect of this past year was that 11 restaurants worked with the Northeast Indiana Local Food Network to identify locally sourced menu options at participating restaurants, as well as details about the local farmers who produced the ingredients included in the dishes. It was a great way to incorporate the popularity of the farm-to-table movement.”
2Toms Brewing has also embraced residents' desire for enjoying things locally made. The year-old brewery is already looking to expand from its current 5,000-square-foot facility and taproom.
“I knew it would be successful, but I thought success would take much longer than it has,” said Tom Carpenter, owner and head brewer. “We were very conservative with our plans and have been shocked (and pleasantly surprised) at our success in less than a year.”
2Toms has recently added the retail sale of cans of its craft brews to its offerings, which Carpenter said sell out almost immediately after being released. 2Toms has also brought in Full Circle Grill and BBQ – a new local business – to provide a complete barbecue menu in its tap room.
“It is so great how receptive people have been to our unique beer flavors. I really like the diversity of our fans and the mixed crowds we get in the taproom. We are family friendly and offer a great place for people to come together to play board games and hang out,” Carpenter said. “The response we have gotten throughout the region and the state is amazing and it is incredible. On the social media site Indy Craft Brew we were ranked as the No. 1 craft brewery in Indiana.”
There is no doubt Fort Wayne diners are dedicated to their homegrown food brands. Guthrie said the support and success of local brands can be seen through their expansion plans.
The local taproom Trubble Brewing, started by husband and wife Chad and Keli Hankee, are opening a second location at the soon-to-open Promenade Park. And the upscale farm-to-fork restaurant Joseph Decuis in Roanoke has announced that it will open a spinoff with a more casual approach in the Electric Works development.
The Club Room at Clyde Theatre, another locally developed brand, has also seen a great response.
“We opened about two months ago and have seen incredible success,” said Gregg Clyde, executive director for the Clyde and The Club Room. “We knew we would be busy on the nights that we had shows at the Clyde, but we are also seeing an incredible volume of business on other nights and for lunch.”
Clyde attributed The Club Room's success to not only its fun take on traditional bar offerings, including burgers made with Wagyu beef, lobster corndogs and chicken wings breaded with Cap'n Crunch cereal, but also to the fact that residents of the 46807 have embraced it as a neighborhood spot.
“We have '07 residents and families coming in to eat three to four times a week,” he said. “The idea of our serving as a spot for our neighbors caught on much quicker than I thought.”
And with the recent announcement that Portillo's will open a new 7,800-square-foot restaurant near Glenbrook Square, there is no doubt that more restaurants and eateries will be opening their doors to satisfy Fort Wayne's appetite for more places to go out to eat.
Allen County households spent $2,896.52 on eating out in 2017 (breakfast, lunch and dinner). For comparison, statewide the spending was $2,870.78, and nationally it was $3,332.68.
Of that, nearly $2,900 was on food consumed away from home, about 46% was spent on dinner ($1,334.33), just over 30% was spent on lunch ($878.96) and not quite 11% for breakfast ($313.62).
Allen County households spent $292.50 on alcoholic beverages consumed away from home, with $86.32 on beer and $42.44 on wine.
Below is the annual average dining out expenditure per household by Fort Wayne ZIP codes:
Compiled by Rachel Blakeman, Community Research Institute director, Purdue University Fort Wayne; Source: Esri 2016 from U.S. Census Business Builder data