Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Savor Fort Wayne restaurants

January 18-29 event mutually beneficial for local eateries, patrons

Savor Fort Wayne runs from Jan. 18-29 this year.

Dean Jackson

Whatzup Features Writer

Published January 11, 2023

It’s big business, the restaurant market in Fort Wayne and Allen County, and Visit Fort Wayne’s celebration of Fort Wayne food aims to make it even bigger.

Starting in 2014, the 12 days of Savor Fort Wayne showcases the city’s favorite, underrated, and under-appreciated eateries, providing a fun distraction to the dreary days of January.

This year’s event runs from Jan. 18-29. Visit Fort Wayne’s Emily Stuck says there will be more participating restaurants than ever before, with at least 70 on board.

That means more options, more cuisines, and more sensitivity to those with specific diets like vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or dairy-free.

And when you talk options with dozens of participants, it runs the table with scores of fresh twists on typical menus. That includes sushi, tacos, steak, seafood, ethnic, and international that cross all barriers with dine-in and carryout available.

Trying something new

As experts in tourism, Visit Fort Wayne make the community shine for leisure and business travels. For Savor Fort Wayne, the focus turns local. They partner with local restaurants by providing ideas and promotions to bring customers inside, including special menu items at special prices.

The object is simple: getting Fort Wayne area diners out of the post-holiday rut of routines and busyness. In doing so, it pushes comfort zones by exposing people to scores of local restaurants, microbreweries, pubs, and clubs. 

And it’s not just the flavor. It’s the views and everything that goes along with dining and a chance to enjoy all the sensory delights. 

“I think all those little things kind of culminate together, but I really do love every little bit about it,” Stuck said. “And I love how restaurants have the flexibility to make their menus at their pricing, make sure it’s a deal to diners. I love how diners really enjoy waiting for the restaurant menus to pop up and what restaurants are participating.”

Stuck says those local options will continue well after restaurant week. That gives Savor Fort Wayne a year-round impact, one menu item at a time.

“What if from hearing about Savor, from seeing it on social media or the news or in the newspaper, what if you learn about one new restaurant that you’re intrigued by? What if you go out and support that restaurant? Maybe not during Savor, but what if you go out another time?” Stuck said.

Perfect timing

And the timing for Savor is perfect for eateries, since diners tend to have less money and motivation after the holidays. The slower traffic can create challenges for businesses. 

Stuck recalled a story from 2020 when the event had to be pushed to the summer because of COVID-19 precautions. She said a well-known, upscale restaurant was on the ropes, so the timing of the event kept the place open and inspired the staff to dig deeper.

They told her that for those 12 days, business rebounded. They had their full staff back in the kitchen and there was a feeling normalcy. It was really was what they needed at that time. 

Besides that one-off year, Savor has thrived in January with lower prices that help provide relief during one of the slowest times in the food industry. 

“Having these focused marketing campaigns that really encourage people to get out and go and dine-in at restaurants, and all of that, it really does help support and justify that return to the hospitality industry as a worker,” she said.

Drawing a crowd

Tony West, who recently purchased The Oyster Bar, is one of the participants in this year’s event.

Before he took the reins of the longtime Calhoun Street landmark, West was entrenched as a chef there. 

“(Savor) gives us an opportunity to showcase our food, but also gives us an opportunity to create new relationships and potentially some new regulars,” West said. 

“January can be a rough month in the industry. With Savor, the timing is right because it creates a buzz. It brings business into local eateries. You have a lull after the holiday gatherings, eating resolutions, and eating differently or saving money. That’s another reason why I like it. It helps me and it helps my team.”

Tim Longardner reopened Acme by Full Circle on East State Boulevard in the fall. While it’s his first Savor at the location, he is familiar with it after operating out of fellow participant 2Toms Brewing Company in the past. 

“It’s great to get more people in, people that wouldn’t normally try out your place,” he said. “It gives us a new customer base. It also gives us a chance to give (current customers) a good value.”

It’s also a great way to push the envelope and experiment. 

When we talked to him about what the Acme would offer, he didn’t have a firm answer. But he had ideas.

“I’m going to come up with a few new things that we don’t normally do here.”

Something they had not been doing was salads, which they began whipping up this week. So, they could be on the menu.

“Everyone wants us to have a salad,” he said of the Savor menu. “Probably a couple of different pizzas. Maybe a special drink.

“I might bring back some old favorite sandwiches or introduce a new sandwich they’ve been perfecting.”

Being left in the dark

It’s not just a special occasion type menu. It is also a test market for would-be new menu items. If it works, there’s a good chance it will eventually be available.

“You are always doing it in this industry,” West said. “We’ll run some new things. It’s not only the food, but our wines. We’ll bring in some wines, do some research, and you utilize that to find potentially new items for your menu.”

West is getting creative with a finale event, tentatively named “Celebrate Savor.” 

“We’re typically closed on Sundays,” he said. “However, we’re going to do a kind of celebrate Savor on Jan. 29. I’m doing a dining in the dark wine dinner. We just want to celebrate the end of Savor.”

What makes it unique is what they are going to serve hasn’t been announced publicly. It’s not so much a secret, as much as it a mystery.

“It’ll be a seven-course meal done completely in the dark,” he said. “You can’t really see what you’re eating. We bring the lights down a little bit. Your brain is already telling yourself, ‘What’s that supposed to taste like?’ Right?” West said of being able to see the food before tasting it. “But if I take away your eyesight and not tell you what it is, then you’re depending completely upon your taste buds and your past eating experiences to try to figure out what you’re eating.”

Open to all in Allen County

Stuck says Visit Fort Wayne take time to listen to restaurants and diners. It’s a yearlong process to continue to imagine what the program is and how to make it better. 

“We really love this program and event, and I really do put my heart and soul into making sure it’s successful for everybody, the sponsors, the restaurants, and the diners,” she said.

Stuck says the program is for any Allen County restaurant, even national chains looking to appeal to local residents.

“There are zero barriers to participating,” she said. “They are still local employees that are there getting their paycheck here and they live in Allen County. So we want to support them.”

To get a peek at the menus and restaurants, go to SavorFortWayne.com. The website provides a variety of search options. Patrons can search by cuisine style, location in Allen County, price point, specialty, specials, and age restrictions.

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