New owners to keep Oyster Bar pearl of city
Tony and Kara West purchase South Calhoun landmark
Former chef Tony West has been called back home by The Oyster Bar. West and his wife, Kara, officially purchased the South Calhoun Street landmark from Steve and Brenda Gard, who had owned the restaurant and bar for 35 years.
West spent several tours of duty over nine years at the storied eatery, and many of the items on the menu were his creation.
“It’s always been calling me home,” he said. “It’s like a destiny thing. I don’t know, a manifestation or whatever.”
It’s also the result of a few years of dreaming between West and his mentor, Steve Gard.
“It just wasn’t the right time for whatever reason,” West said about not sealing the deal until this month.
It was just the right time for him to dive in. Well, maybe more like getting shoved in from Kara.
“She pushed me off the deep end,” West said of his wife.
Kara West’s behind-the-scenes cheerleading has helped Tony West develop a great sense of timing and let his talents shine. But she’s more than vocal support. She’s dug in and is as much a part of the effort as Tony.
Much like the Gards, the Wests share ownership and responsibilities, and they are following the model the Gards used.
“It was a husband and wife team before and it will continue to be,” Kara West said. “They’ve trained us and worked with us to make the smoothest transition possible. They’ve given us beyond what we could have ever asked for. It’s a truly special situation.”
Tony West got his start at The Oyster Bar as a college student. He had applied at another restaurant, which tipped off Gard to a potential star. In the span of a day or so, West visited The Oyster Bar and was hired.
Eventually, he was running the kitchen, creating new dishes and learning by making mistakes.
“I grew up there,” he said. “I was 19 years old with full autonomy, with so little experience. It was like my classroom. I worked with all sorts of ingredients and had guidance from other chefs, but I really gotta do my own thing.”
By the time he was 21, he was the executive chef.
His passion pushed him to venture to other restaurants and cities, but it wasn’t home like Fort Wayne. It wasn’t family.
“It just keeps calling me back, and Steve has been there for me not only at work, but as an example as a friend and a mentor is,” Tony West said. “He’s always been there for me.”
“To have the opportunity to carry on his legacy. To step into that role is a very humbling experience. Exciting, but it’s just, ‘Wow, what an opportunity.’ ”
Don’t expect significant changes.
“They’ve had a formula that’s worked for years,” Tony West said of the Gards.
He predicts some minor changes to the menu — he calls it modernizing — but the building will remain unchanged.
“We’re just going to put a little loving touch on it,” he said. “It’s really trying to carry that tradition. Most of the changes will be in food and then operational things in the background that really the guests won’t notice.
“The signature thing is that it’s a close, cozy place,” he added. “It’s small and has, I think, one of the best restaurant teams in the area. As far as servers go, the longevity of the staff will prove that. It’s that whole atmosphere. That’s why we like to get to know our guests. We cater and serve our guests, because that’s what the industry is about. It’s about the experience, and that’s what we want the best to ever come in. And that experience happens because of the team.”
That includes Jack Reading, a friendly grandfatherly guy who’s been helping around the place since 1964, and Susan Kingsley who has been the manager of the restaurant for 24 years.
Visit Joseph Decuis for Wagyu Wednesdays
Wagyu Wednesdays continue through the end of year at Roanoke’s Joseph Decuis.
The next offering takes you to France with Boeuf Bourguignon, featuring chuck braised in red wine and accented with potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and wagyu bacon. On Dec. 28, get a taste of Italy as Wagyu Braciole is served, featuring flank steak stuffed with spinach, ricotta, prosciutto enhanced with homemade pasta, and Italian tomato sauce.
To make reservations, call Joseph Decuis at (260) 672-1715.
Last chance for Days of Holly Shopping
Your final chance to take advantage of Downtown Fort Wayne’s Days of Holly Shopping is Saturday, Dec. 17.
It’s a great way to find unique gifts and discounts and treat yourself to more than 50 downtown restaurants of all styles and price points. There’s also specialty food shops that make up the central city from Coney dogs at Coney Island to chocolate at DeBrand. Don’t forget Kilwins and Poptique Popcorn.
Find out more at downtownfortwayne.com.
Off the Eaten Path is the Whatzup weekly column that covers Northeast Indiana’s restaurant and food news. Send your news items to email@example.com.