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Meet Water Street Mercantile - New Downtown

April 3, 2020

Input Fort Wayne

While there are multiple grocery stores planned for downtown Fort Wayne's future, one local restaurant is testing the concept during COVID-19, and it's going surprisingly well.

General Manager Ben Hall and his team at Hall's restaurant group are making lemonade out of lemons at the Don Hall's Gas House, transforming their 305 E. Superior St. space into the Water Street Mercantile. This pop-up, de-facto grocery store features some of the food and drink products that would have otherwise gone to waste from their restaurants.

Hall says it’s a win-win-win concept, because they’re reducing food waste, keeping more staff employed, and providing a service to the community at the same time. “A lot of the demand comes from our existing customer base who understand that it's not a real good time to be in the restaurant business," Hall says. "They know that it’s our service staff who are really hung out to dry, so the support for them has been amazing.”

Like most restaurants, Hall's has struggled given the state’s ban on dine-in eating and events during COVID-19. The restaurant group even announced the closure of its Don Hall's Hotel & Conference Center on Facebook last Sunday.

But when it comes to the Mercantile, it's a different story. Customers seem to be finding value in the concept, Hall says. And its success speaks to the restaurant group's ability to pivot quickly to meet a need.

The Hall's team has gone all-in with the concept, rebranding their @hallsdeck Instagram account as the Water Street Mercantile. They've been sharing menus of their products as well as pictures of the meals customers are making from their food.

All of the momentum has Hall wondering if the concept of a restaurant-based mercantile shop has legs beyond the short term.

“The idea was really well-received, which suggests that somehow what we're doing is a viable long-term business model," he says. "It might very well work in a location that makes sense."

In the meantime, he says he’s grateful to be able to keep more people working, especially when the service industry as a whole has been hit so hard.

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