Q1: How did you become involved in the restaurant business?
Years ago, I was living in California when my father passed away. I got married, moved back to Fort Wayne, went back to school and then attempted to buy three or four taverns here. In the meantime, my wife and I went through some rocky times and divorced. She moved back to Vandalia, Illinois while I continued school and then visited my daughter once a month in Vandalia. I ended up spending weekends at my ex-wife’s house and we eventually reconciled. We remarried and I took over the failing restaurant she had for about five years, during which time we tripled its sales – but I didn’t actually make any money. I then met my current wife and we’ve been together about 35 years and have two children together. Over the years I have had experience running various restaurants in St. Louis and Indianapolis, and then an opportunity came to buy the Oyster Bar about 30 years ago. We’ve had our ups and downs here. There was one slow night in the very beginning when I sat on the floor by the bar with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red, and Johnnie and I had a very good discussion about what exactly I was doing running this place. It was earth-shattering because I thought for sure I was done, but then we hired some great new employees and really got going. We are so blessed beyond compare, even through rough times like when we had to close or north location due to flooding several years ago.
Q2: What makes the Oyster Bar so popular, and to what do you attribute its long-standing success?
We have a raspberry chicken on our menu that we have had for longer than I can remember. I’ve tried to take it off many times, but then I get phone calls at home from customers complaining. That item always stays on. The Caesar salad is another – the dressing came from the little restaurant I worked at after General Mills before I came here. The salmon is also a standard, so is the walleye. I can change the presentation, but it’s just some of those favorites that are old standbys everyone loves. We also buy the best quality seafood we can based on availability from our suppliers.
Q3: What is your business philosophy in running the restaurant?
First of all, when we hire, we talk about quality and expectations for mutual respect. I have high standards for a great front of the house staff who have been here a very long time. We are also very solid in our kitchen. I also believe in treating people fairly and generally try not to yell. My staff will tell you they get along like family most of the time, and everyone enjoys and respects each other. The other strong quality of this restaurant is that we make money and do good business. We also have a shared tip system that keeps everyone happy.
Q4: What is your daily schedule like now, and what are your plans for the future?
Well, I don’t have a lot of hobbies; I don’t fish, I don’t hunt. My wife and I are in the process of figuring out what exactly I am going to do when we sell this restaurant. There are some things I want to do, obviously we would like to travel, but I’m not eager about doing anything part-time for someone else after being my own boss all these years. The past few years here have been great – I really don’t do much other than catering. I get up and do a short workout, come here to do the registers and banking, and run errands for supplies and food. When I don’t have catering jobs, my afternoons are absolutely free – and it’s boring. I am now looking for ways to be involved around Fort Wayne and help those who are not as fortunate. And in the next few months, we will be ready to look for a potential buyer for the restaurant. That’s where we are now.