Two Fort Wayne writers have dug into the Fort Wayne restaurant scene with their new book “Classic Restaurants of Fort Wayne,” serving up stories and spotlights on the Summit City’s landmark eateries.
Keith Elchert, a journalist for the Journal Gazette, and Laura Weston, formerly of The News-Sentinel, are longtime residents of Fort Wayne and avid connoisseurs of the dining experiences the city has to offer.
“We always have the philosophy … we try to focus on the locals,” Elchert said. “Those are the people who know the population best, who know the likes of those people … the local people have the stories to tell that chain managers can’t.”
This isn’t the first time this pair has traveled on their stomachs in search of good stories and good eats. In fact, “Classic Restaurants” is a spin-off of their second book, “Honest Eats,” which features restaurants along the Lincoln Highway in Indiana.
“We were collecting stories that probably should’ve been collected 20 years or so ago,” Elchert said. “The people telling the stories were losing them, so we decided these were stories that needed to be collected in one place and told.”
The book is filled with all the fixings needed to give readers a taste of Fort Wayne, featuring brief histories and little-known facts about some of the city’s oldest spots like the Nine Mile Restaurant and longtime favorites like DeBrand Fine Chocolate. Each segment adds its own spice to the story, creating a buffet of history and ideas for a night out.
“It’s more than any one big takeaway; it’s those little takeaways,” Elchert said. “In this book, there’s so many different little stories, so many different points in time that will make people say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that.’”
Through their research for this book, Elchert and Weston even found connections to the restaurant scene in larger cities. For example, the Berghoff Restaurant in Chicago got its start in Fort Wayne, where the two brothers began their careers as beer brewers before expanding their business and eventually moving.
Even with its proximity to Chicago and Indianapolis, two major cities with their own dining identities, Fort Wayne has managed to build its own unique restaurant landscape.
“I think Fort Wayne is far enough from all the big cities that it developed organically on its own,” Elchert said. “The restaurant scene here now is just thriving with places like Proximo and Friendly Fox and other interesting places continuing to pop up. I think in that sense; Fort Wayne is no different from any other city … people have an appetite for something interesting.”
Elchert and Weston emphasize in the book’s introduction that it is in no way a definitive summary of all the classic restaurants in Fort Wayne, merely a slice of the pie to savor. In fact, they are already receiving emails from readers with suggestions of other restaurants that should have been included. Elchert said that they were considering a second volume, but that the details of this second publication have not been determined yet.
The book is for sale on Amazon as well as in local bookstores including Barnes and Noble and Hyde Brothers Booksellers of Wells Street.