A decades-old Fort Wayne facility is closing its doors, the latest victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Don Hall’s Guesthouse Hotel and Conference Center will be shutting down, the Hall family announced, ending the chapter of a business center that served Fort Wayne for almost 40 years.
“We hated to do it,” said Tim Hall, the facility’s general manager, “it was difficult to do. But we just needed to make a hard decision quickly.”
The Hall family added in a news release: “These past few months have been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. The level of anxiety and uncertainty in our family business is unchartered.
“The best comparison I can come up with is this, it is like trying to stop a freight train going 60 mph in 10 yards. From 60 to 0 in a matter of a few days,” the family noted.
“We went from being pretty busy to basically zero,” Tim Hall said.
“We just don’t think we can sit there open, waiting for the business to come back.”
The facility, 1313 W. Washington Center Road, originally was the Imperial House Hotel before being acquired by the Halls in 1981. The hotel and restaurant hosted a variety of things, from weddings, birthday parties and bridal showers to staycations and holiday celebrations. “We hosted everything there,” Hall noted.
The Halls said Gov. Eric Holcomb’s temporary ban on dine-in services and health recommendations to keep people at a distance to slow the spread of COVID-19 had basically killed the business at the center. Therefore, they weren’t left with much choice.
“Obviously, this has been a very difficult decision. However, we feel this is the best way forward for us, as a restaurant group, to better position ourselves and our efforts for the future and future projects.”
The center officially closed March 27, according to Hall.
Hall is working to move events and occasions scheduled to be held at the facility to other Halls venues, he said. Some of those alternate spots include Lester’s Party Room at the Hall’s Original Drive-in on Bluffton Road, the Philmore on Broadway, and local park facilities, such as Salomon Farm and the currently closed Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory downtown.
“We’re making concessions on some things,” Hall said. “We’re working with customers and trying our best to move things to other venues.”
The center employed about 65 people, according to Hall, with seasonal numbers, usually during the busier summer season, even higher. Hall said the company is working to shift the workers to other Halls locales, but the COVID shutdown makes it difficult, because all the company’s dining rooms are currently shuttered.
Don Hall began his restaurant business as a young man with a background in the meat business. He had a dream to open a drive-in restaurant on land south of Fort Wayne near Bluffton Road – what was then nothing more than about 40 acres of swamp.
The day after Thanksgiving in 1946, he opened his first eatery. And it wasn’t long before the drive-in restaurant turned into a popular favorite with the local high school students. Teens would “buzz” Hall’s in the evenings, driving by to see their friends and grab a bite at the drive-in bays.
The restaurant proved so trendy, that traffic to the location at 1502 Bluffton Road would stretch from the restaurant’s drive-in bays all the way across the nearby bridge over the St. Marys River.
Today, the company has 17 locations around Fort Wayne, including the Gas House downtown and the original location on Bluffton Road.
Letting go of the workers at the site probably has been the most difficult part of the decision, Hall noted.
“We want to thank our staff,” the family wrote. “Ever since we acquired the former ‘Imperial House Hotel,’ back in 1981, we managed to employ some of the best folks in hospitality. Having to inform them of this decision is one of the hardest things we’ve done in our 75 years of business.”
Hall said he’s unsure what will become of the building where the Guesthouse is located. “It will go on the market, but it hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “It is for sale, but we don’t know the price on anything yet. But some people (with interest in buying it) already have reached out.”
Hall said closing the center’s doors for the last time really will be unprecedented.
“Our doors never had locks on them,” Hall said, with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “This place had never locked its doors until last Friday.”