There is no better way to describe this time in history other than uncertain. The speed at which things change is rapid. Day to day, hour by hour. Even, seemingly, second by second.
Sitting in my “home office” (a toy room that has been cleared of Legos) on Monday afternoon, I'm talking with Derek Berkes, owner of Waiter on the Way. It's just hours after Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that we will be under a shelter-at-home protocol.
What that meant, exactly, seemed uncertain but it appeared that Berkes' delivery business would continue. Now we know it will. And, if the past weekend is any indication, it will be busy.
Waiter on the Way, which has been working with local restaurants since 1991, started to see an uptick in business Thursday.
By the weekend, it had to double its office staff and had about 50% more drivers making deliveries.
There were restaurant menus to add to the computer system and others to take down as owners and Waiter on the Way tried to navigate the changes to the food industry. Berkes says the service has added about 10 new restaurants since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Amid the chaos, though, Berkes has been focused on making sure the health and well-being of staff and customers stayed a priority, efficiently placing orders with restaurants and delivering them to customers, and doing as much for the restaurant community as possible.
“It's a very uncertain time for everyone. What I do know is that we can do something. We can keep working as hard as we can on everything we can,” Berkes says. “Tomorrow that might be something different, but we keep looking for ways to support the local restaurants and businesses. For us, it's not an option to do nothing.”
Among the initiatives is a partnership with the Downtown Improvement District to offer free delivery from restaurants within the 99 blocks of downtown, as well as the option to tip a restaurant in addition to the driver. When customers are ordering, Berkes says, they are taking advantage of that option to show support for restaurant staff.
This weekend, he's prepared to add more drivers to reduce delivery times during peak hours.
Free meals from Umi
Umi Fort Wayne launched a new program this week to help people during this time.
Until further notice, Umi is providing up to 500 free meals per day, available between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. The restaurant is working with local nonprofits to identify those in need and most vulnerable, as well as serve front-line workers.
No one will be turned away if they come for a meal, says Rachel Hall, marketing and events specialist for Umi. It's about serving the community during a difficult time.
“We had something to give, and we wanted to do that,” Hall says.
The restaurant served nearly 600 meals in its first day Monday. It was an emotional experience, Hall says, filled with joy and tears as staff and volunteers provided the meals.
The program has received an outpouring of support, she says, including financial donations, volunteer offers and delivery help.
“We have so much gratitude for so many people coming together,” Hall says.
People can also come to the restaurant at 2912 Getz Road for curbside pickup, which is available from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. To order, call 203-9975.
Other customers can still order food, and Umi is donating all profits to its employee assistance program, which it launched last week with $15,000.
“We always say we're like a family,” Hall says. “But this has certainly brought us closer.”
Decuis family meals
Driving home from New Orleans, where Alice Eshelman was visiting family, she had a lot of time to think about how to shift her business during COVID-19 shutdowns.
Eshelman, an owner of Joseph Decuis in Roanoke, knew restaurants would close. But she also knew that part of her business was the Emporium and chef Marcus Daniel can cook not just Wagyu steak but a lasagna.
“Our saving grace is that the Emporium is a grocery,” she says. “Our wines are sold on a grocery license and our farm meat is sold here frozen.”
Adding freshly prepared meals for carryout, as well as prepared foods that have been frozen, the fine-dining restaurant is pivoting its focus.
The Emporium will have individual casual meals such as Wagyu burgers and fries, available for takeout all day. Customers can also pre-order family-style meals, which will feed three to four people. For example, the menu could be roast chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, salad and rolls for $52.
The specialty menus will be listed on JosephDecuis.com and updated weekly. To order, call 260-672-1715.
The Emporium also carries frozen Wagyu steaks, roasts, burgers, hot dogs and prepared foods such as quiche and desserts.
Market in Gas House
Fort Wayne residents have been asking for a downtown grocery. And they have a new option. At least temporarily.
Don Hall's is operating The Water Street Mercantile out of its Gas House, 305 E. Superior St.
Called the Merc for short, the market is allowing the restaurant to sell excess inventory – such as vegetables, beef and Takaoka's famous ginger dressing. There might be household essentials.
“Inventory may change from day to day,” Ben Hall says.
Customers complete an order form, and restaurant staff fill it and deliver it to the car.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Beer, wine sale
If there was ever a time to revamp a restaurant menu, it might be now.
Mark Melchi has been considering buying new beer coolers for the Lucky Moose, 622 E. Dupont Road, and changing his offerings. While that typically would involve making changes with a distributor and arranging credit, Melchi is selling his stock.
All beer and wine will be available half-price. Customers can choose carryout or delivery with a food purchase.
There will be daily lunch features for $7.77 and dinner features for $11.11 and $13.13. Create-your-own omelets, a popular brunch choice, are also available during the lunch hour for $7.77.
The restaurant 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.
• The shelter-at-home order has prompted some restaurants, which were operating on a carryout/delivery basis, to temporarily close. Among them are Tolon, el Azteca and Full Circle Grill & Bar.
• The Facebook Page 2GoFW continues to be a source of information and encouragement during these times. One of the administrators, Krystal Vega, shared that there is a bingo contest underway. There are two different cards – one to support local restaurants operating now and another to support spots after restaurants are allowed to re-open for dining.
• Rudy's Shop started delivering to the Fort Wayne area last week. Rudy's Shop offers a wide selection of Indiana beer and wine, DeBrand Fine Chocolates and many items from their walk-in humidor. They will also be featuring special delivery combinations at discounted prices. The delivery cost is free, with a minimum $40 purchase. All orders over $40 will receive a $10 Rudy's gift certificate. Delivery service is available from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 451-0115 for more information or to place an order.
• Bravas, 3412 Fairfield Ave., is adding a delivery option for people who live in a 3-mile radius of the burger restaurant. Customers must call in their order at 745-7002 to have it delivered. Carryout orders can be placed online or over the phone. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
• Smokey Bones is offering free delivery via DoorDash through March. The barbecue restaurant is also offering family meals and kids eat free with purchase of an entrée. For free delivery, there is a minimum purchase of $15.
• Red Lobster is offering free delivery through April 12 when customers order on RedLobster.com. Carryout is available, too.
• Texas Roadhouse, 710 W. Washington Center Road, is providing curbside to-go service, allowing customers to pick up food without leaving their car. Orders can be placed through an app, at TexasRoadhouse.com or by phone at 416-0919.
• Firehouse Subs locations are open for carryout and delivery. Orders can be placed online at FirehouseSubs.com or by phone. There are locations at 4423 Coldwater Road (call 755-5178) and 5215 Illinois Road (call 416-0060).
The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 461-8304 at least two weeks before event or desired publication.