It’s hip to be seen at Lunch on the Square
Live music, food trucks at Freimann Square from June 1-Aug. 31
Location, location, location. It’s a buzzword in real estate — success and failure are hinged on the place where the property sits.
It’s also proven just as accurate for Fort Wayne’s popular music and entertainment series Lunch on the Square.
The popular afternoon music series with food trucks returns to Freimann Square on Thursday, June 1, with Alicia Pyle & The Locals and runs every Thursday from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. through Aug. 31.
Drawing a crowd
About five years ago, Lunch on the Square moved from I&M Power Plaza on Berry Street to Freimann Square, generating even bigger crowds and more possibilities.
Presented by Downtown Fort Wayne, Lunch on the Square spans 14 straight Thursdays. Attendees find a spot around the fountain or on the grass and enjoy some local music while consuming tasty eats from various food trucks.
Now in its 15th season, organizers say it draws about 1,200-1,300 people each week. Program manager Rick Zolman says there’s no reason they won’t see similar if not larger crowds this summer, saying they drew about 1,700 people prior to the pandemic.
“Those are huge numbers,” he said. “That’s a small town.”
Making a move
For the first 10 years , Lunch on the Square was drawing about 800 people on a weekly basis. In 2017, renovations meant the plaza would be out of commission for much of the season.
That sent planners scrambling, but they didn’t have to look far.
Just northeast of the I&M Plaza was Freimann Square, where the event took on a new energy and transformed the tone of the event.
It happened practically instantly, according to Zolman. He laughed and said they couldn’t have bought an atmosphere that unique.
When they shifted to East Main Street, attendance jumped to almost 1,000 people immediately.
“It went from strictly business folks to families,” Zolman said. “We’d see daycare kids coming in having lunch and playing in the grass. Now we have rehab centers, nursing homes that bring a bus in.
“It’s great to just get out and enjoy the sunshine, have lunch, and listen to music. More and more families are coming down, literally bringing blankets and having a picnic.”
It’s done more than bring in new faces. It’s opened up a new world of opportunities.
The area around Freimann Square provides extra space to make food trucks a key part of the event, as more than a dozen will be on hand for all the dates. In turn, the move has birthed a new community service initiative with the trucks.
Through the Lunch Means More program, each week a specific food vendor is highlighted with Barnes & Thornburg LLP matching 15 percent of that week’s sales. At the end of the summer, Barnes & Thornburg will present a check for the total amount raised during the 14-week event to a nonprofit. This year, that nonprofit is Girlz Rock, which “exists to empower girls of all backgrounds and abilities through education and spirituality.”
“It’s a sizable donation,” Zolman said. “I think the number was like $3,500 last year.”
Of course, music will always be the draw. They’ve boosted the budget to make an even bigger impact and to attract bigger groups in size and popularity.
“It’s a variety of styles,” Zolman said. “We have a good mix of talent and genres. Another added benefit for us is that it gives us a chance to showcase the talent and the depth of talent we have in Fort Wayne.”
Like the mission of all the Downtown Fort Wayne events, Lunch on the Square gets people downtown and exposed to retail, restaurant, and cultural opportunities.
“It doesn’t seems like it is slowing down,” he said. “It’s really is one of the most beloved summer events of the summer.”
The reason is simple. And according to Zolman, very simple.
“You come to the event, you can grab lunch, and you can eat. Then, there’s also this social aspect to it,” he said. “People want to come down and say hello and be seen. They want to make a connection to other people.”