The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 01, 2020 1:00 am

As restaurants reopen, Hall's learns to adapt


On March 16, it was as if the National Weather Service had issued a forecast for a freak blizzard. But unlike a blizzard, the storm would not last a couple days – or even a week. The recovery would not be as simple as city street crews plowing snow. The aftermath wouldn't be piles that would slowly melt.

Ben Hall, a co-owner of the Hall's Restaurant Group, has weathered severe snowstorms. But doing business during the pandemic and under Indiana's restrictions has been unprecedented.

“Everybody who has a restaurant built it on the assumption that COVID-19 was not a thing,” says Hall, who also manages the Gas House.

But the group did its best to pivot under the circumstances, expanding carryout and delivery options as well as adding a popular market at the Gas House. Each of the group's restaurants had a unique approach.

The same could be said for reopening the more than 10 operations under the Hall's umbrella. Some of the larger restaurants have reopened for dine-in, albeit with limited hours. The Deck was the first, followed by the Gas House, Takaoka and the Factory.

Soon, maybe as early as Monday, the Original Drive-In on Bluffton Road and the New Haven restaurant will reopen.

“We have experience opening the other places, kind of learning again how everything is behaving. (We can) apply that knowledge and get a couple more stores up and running,” Hall says.

Triangle Park, though, is the one piece of the puzzle that the Halls have yet to figure out, and the restaurant will remain closed for now. It was announced in March that Hall's Guesthouse Hotel and Conference Center would close permanently.

Hall says they are trying to see how the bigger restaurants operate post-COVID. Business at the Gas House has exceeded his expectations – “or maybe I had convinced myself into a dire forecast to be prepared for it if it happened,” he says. Dine-in traffic at the Tavern at Coventry and Factory has been coming back relatively well, but it's not close to what it was before March 16.

“Hopefully, the trends we've seen in Indiana will hold, and we can get back to the old normal as much as we possibly can,” Hall says. “To have any chance of really making it long term, we're going to have to get back to that. That doesn't necessarily do anything for the confidence of the dining public, but that's a complication that the state can't fix.”

Restaurants will be allowed to open at full capacity when the state advances to Stage 5 of the reopening plan. That change is expected to happen Saturday.

New on Dupont

Kari Meinert and her husband wanted to open a restaurant that was not just family-friendly but affordable.

The past few months have been tough for families, she says.

“We're very people-oriented and enjoy what we do,” Meinert says. “We want to make it financially feasible for people to eat out during these tough times.”

That's why their new restaurant, The Cracked Egg, will offer children's meals for $2.99. The breakfast and lunch spot will open Friday at 2896 E. Dupont Road.

The menu features old-school favorites such as corned beef hash and country-fried steak as well as create-your-own breakfast quesadillas and burritos.

With the choice of four items – including meat, cheese and vegetables – a custom three-egg omelet is $5.99. Skillets, such as Mexican, Irish and garbage, are $6.99.

There are griddle favorites, too, including pancakes, waffles and crepes. The crepes can be stuffed with a sweet cream compote and topped with a glaze, such as cherry or blueberry, and whipped cream.

The restaurant can seat about 100 (fewer with social distancing), and there's an outdoor space that seats about 50. The patio is pet-friendly, and the staff will treat furry friends to bacon and water.

While diners' confidence can be hard to measure, Meinert hopes food can be a way to draw people out and reconnect with others.

Hours will be 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Family meals

One of the trends to come out of COVID-era restaurant kitchens is the family meal – larger portions that can be easily shared and at a price lower than individual meals.

The family meal is not going away even as restaurants reopen with diners ordering individual entrees.

Catablu will continue offering its summer family meal, as well as curbside carryout, Maureen Catalogna says. The restaurant at 6732 W. Jefferson Blvd. has a menu of elevated family favorites, such as giant shrimp crab cakes and Italian chicken meatloaf. There are also grill kits available. Call 456-6563.

Joseph Decuis, which plans to resume service July 16, has also offered family-style dinners that serve four to six people. Customers can pick up Wagyu enchiladas or lasagna from the restaurant's Emporium in Roanoke. Call 672-1715.

If you are planning to order a family meal, keep in mind that many restaurants require preorders.

Around town

• The Lincoln Tower Soda Fountain is closed and for sale, according to a worker in the tower's information booth.

Gainz Meal Prep recently announced that it will shut down operations. The service hopes to return at some point, but “we have to explore our options and see what is going to work best,” according to a Facebook post.

Fort Wayne Food Tours had hoped to begin offering tours in July, but “it is just too soon,” owners said in a social media post announcing that the tours were on hold until further notice.

• This year's Brewed IN the Fort craft beer festival has been canceled. It had been scheduled for Sept. 12.

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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