That downtown grocery on so many Fort Wayne wish lists? It's here – inspired by the frustration of business closings and the can-do spirit of a downtown restaurateur.
Ben Hall, general manager of The Gas House, teamed up with a handful of employees to open The Water Street Mercantile, a pop-up market operating out of the Superior Street Hall's restaurant.
“We kind of fumbled through the weekend of (March) 14th, then the governor shut everything down and we went through the gut-wrenching part of telling staff members we were going to have to let them go,” Hall explained.
“We assembled the remainder of our crew and got ready to just do carryout.”
But carryout was never a big part of the operation for the downtown location, which is also home to Takaoka and The Deck.
“Somebody suggested, 'How about we open the downtown market everyone wants?' ” Hall said.
With a surplus of inventory and a quickly constructed menu, “The Merc” was announced on social media and its first customer wandered in about 30 minutes later.
Over the past 10 days, it's drawn a steady group of customers looking for produce, meat, cheese, soups, salad dressings and more.
Hall said the operation has the advantage of drawing on the Hall's restaurant chain inventory out of its New Haven commissary, but supplies are ever-changing – even throughout its 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours. A limited carryout menu of The Gas House's regular fare is available, as well.
He said the downtown market wasn't ever part of operating plans, but the reception it has received is strong.
“Some of the love that we have received in this little penny-ante operation is amazing,” Hall said. “It's absolutely blown me away.”