FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In 1987, Steve and Brenda Gard bought The Oyster Bar just south of downtown Fort Wayne. It began their run as the longest tenured owners in the business’ history.

On Monday, final papers were signed to pass the baton to new owners Tony and Kara West.

The Oyster Bar first opened as a saloon in 1888 in its current location at 1830 Calhoun Street. Since then, it has had a handful of owners and operated under various names. It even survived the prohibition, but did close for three years during The Great Depression.

In 1956, oysters were first introduced and in 1975 the name officially became “The Oyster Bar.”

Eventually, a then 19-year-old named Tony West would come to work for the Gards.

He worked there for several years, and even once told Steve that he would own the restaurant one day.

Two years ago, Steve, 77, and his wife decided it was time to move on. They came close to selling, but they ultimately broke that deal off.

During a phone conversation with Tony, Steve mentioned they were trying to sell. Tony said he was interested and that started the process of selling to the Wests.

WANE 15 sat down with the Gards and Wests on Monday.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better person,” Steve said of Tony. “He is an absolute excellent chef. He and his wife are just good people.”

The new(left) and former(right) owners of The Oyster Bar in Fort Wayne sit down together on Monday, 12/5/22. Pictured left to right: Kara West, Tony West, Steve Gard, and Brenda Gard.

The Wests couldn’t be more excited to take over a restaurant with such a legacy in Fort Wayne.

“That is what we’re most excited about. This is part of our life, but we are more part of the history of this restaurant than what it is of us, and we take that seriously and we care a lot about that,” Kara said. “The Gards have done an amazing job of building such a community here. That is a legacy that we look forward to taking on and hopefully passing on a long, long time from now the same way that they are.”

Tony added his thoughts on that as well.

“We want to carry that tradition on. It’s a special place with special people that work here and special people that come in here to eat. [The Gards have] built relationships and touched so many lives through this place, and we hope to continue to do the same thing,” he said.

One of those bonds formed over the years happened between the Gards and the Wests. Tony worked at The Oyster Bar several times along his journey, and is thankful Kara pushed him to buy it when the opportunity became available.

While talking about the long-standing success of the establishment, both families gave full credit to the staff. People like general manager Susan Kingsley who has worked there for more than 20 years, and others who’ve been there for decades.

“We couldn’t have done it without the employees. We’ve got the best employees ever,” Brenda said.

Tony and Kara said a big part of that has been the leadership from the Gards.

“I think what’s really made the longevity of the staff are these two (referencing the Gards), these two would do anything for anybody,” Tony emotionally said. “It’s like family. He’s watched me grow up. He’s been a mentor, been there for me.”

“And our biggest cheerleaders,” Kara added.

Tony West and Steve Gard, the new and former owners of The Oyster Bar, embrace after an interview with WANE 15 on Monday, 12/5/22.

Will there be any changes? That’s the question the Wests said they get asked the most.

Aside from some minor tweaks to food or things that won’t impact the guest experience, Tony said they don’t plan to disrupt what people have come to know and love in Fort Wayne for 134 years.

“It’s small, intimate, where friends become family, where the guests enjoy the tight spaces, so to do anything to make this place bigger, it wouldn’t serve the history right,” he proclaimed.

While the Wests say they do plan to lean on the Gards for guidance during the transition, Brenda believes they are perfectly suited for the job.

It’s still hard for Tony to believe that his declaration to Steve that he would one day buy The Oyster Bar is now a reality. He joked that when he told Steve he would buy it all those years ago, Steve may not have thought the day would actually come, but now that it’s here, Tony and Kara are very excited.

Steve and Brenda are, too. They’ll miss their baby of three-plus decades, but they are excited for the next generation to take over.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone — the customers, the people that have come in here and continue to,” Steve said. “For the ones that we didn’t meet their expectations, I’d like to get them back and have Tony and his wife show them how they do it.”