Gas House gets creative in adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, opens “The Merc”

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Restaurants around the state are pushing out more carryout orders to make up lost business from the Stay At Home order, but one Fort Wayne restaurant is pulling in customers by changing their business plan.

During a time when businesses are closing down due to COVID-19, a new grocery store is opening up in downtown Fort Wayne…sort of.

While Governor Holcomb’s closing restaurant dining rooms, Don Hall’s Old Gas House is among the restaurants in the area doing carryout service. According to Ben Hall, General Manager for the Gas House, carryout has never been a huge part of their revenue although they have been offering it for some time now, so in order to drum up some more business and get rid of some of their excess inventory, they created the Water Street Mercantile.

“A few of us were sitting around, not doing much, and kind of started talking out loud about what would happen if we just decided to start selling everything that we have,” said Hall.

The Water Street Mercantile, branded after Superior Street’s previous name of Water Street, is a makeshift grocery store where the Gas House is selling everything from their meat and produce, to some more unexpected products.

“One of our first customers bought 10 rolls of toilet paper and we thought that was pretty amusing.”

They have made adjustments day-to-day as they have learned and adapted to their temporary format but it still is not like your typical market.

“It’s very, very, very old school,” said Hall. “You’ll be presented with a sort of a menu, for lack of a better term, of what we currently have in inventory. Fill out your sheet, hand it off to one of our expert attendants up there.”

Then, the employees go behind the scenes and fill the orders for you. What is on the menu stays mostly the same but it does change as items sell out and new shipments come in.

“That’s kind of how it operates, to some extent, is what do we have,” said Hall. “It might be fillets today, it might be New Yorks today, it could be ribeyes. It changes a bit every day.”

Hall said “The Merc” does help the restaurant make up for some of their lost revenue but even better is that it’s allowed them to keep some of their employees occupied.

“Otherwise we’d be standing around, put together a carryout every 15 minutes and then not do much else,” said Hall. “That was without question the hardest thing in this whole thing was not having jobs for a great majority of our staff and that’s very tough and so it’s been nice to have enough going on to keep a handful of them busy.”

As for how long the Water Street Mercantile will be in business, Hall said they are prepared to continue for as long as they are unable to have people dine-in but eventually they will turn back into the Old Gas House.

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