Feature Stories

Top 10 Most Wanted Businesses

By Connie Haas Zuber
P.F. Chang's
Top 10 Most Wanted Businesses hit a nerve in Fort Wayne. It’s the most popular readers poll since our first one in 2006.

Perhaps it was the starting promise from Andi Udris, president of The Alliance, our regional economic development agency, to take the information and try to get some of the winners to locate here that attracted the votes. Maybe this kind of readers poll is right for our social media age, because when we posted on our Facebook page, tweeted about it or talked about it on Midday Matters on WBOI-FM public radio, readers voted and voted and voted.

And maybe — my favorite possibility — it’s because people around here know what Fort Wayne is capable of and are eager for it to grow into an even cooler little city.

At any rate, the results (which exceeded the capacity of even an Excel spreadsheet to contain them) tell us more than which 10 businesses Fort Wayne Monthly readers most want to bring to town. In their enormity and complexity, they’re a picture of what we like, where we go when we travel or where we went to school and how we’d like to be here. We like good food and beer in places with some attitude. We love to furnish and decorate and perfect our homes. We want to do interesting things, many of them outdoors. And we like fashion — and shoes — and getting the best price on as much of all of this as we can. We’re still willing to pay for quality, though.

Judging by these results, we’re more modern than traditional, more foodie than comfort food-y, and we have a keen sense of what’s happening now. And we’re aware of what part of town we spend most of our time in, because many votes arrived specifying where the voter wanted the Trader Joes, the P. F. Chang’s or the IKEA to be located. A lot of people see a future for this Top 10 downtown. Others want the convenience and affirmation of them closer to home. One thing I learned is that the old north (Coliseum Boulevard, for example) is no longer the New North, which must be the Dupont Road corridor from Lima to Coldwater Road. That part of town is hungry for some of these businesses.

Now that the fun’s over and the results are in, though, you can fairly ask “So what? We voted and what’s going to happen?”

Two things.

First thing: Andi Udris and The Alliance have a complete copy of the votes cast, and they are studying it for possibilities.
“We will share it with developers and see if they have any relationships or interest in incorporating it as part of their projects,” Udris said. In addition, it will feed into a current effort to update Blueprint Plus, the official development plan for downtown.
A poll like Fort Wayne Monthly’s Top 10 Most Wanted Businesses is an unusual economic development tool. “No one really has access to this kind of data,” he said.
Senior Vice President Marla Schneider said the Alliance will do its own research into the results. “We’ll take the Top 10 and do deeper research in sources we have access to,” she said. “That will help us home in on options that might be open to us as a community.”

“It’s interesting,” Udris concluded.

Local art dealer and City Council 1st District representative Tom Smith got started thinking anew about economic development when he became Council’s representative on the Alliance board. He had the inspiration that got this Top 10 project started after he started “looking at it from the outside,” he said, musing on how to involve citizens.

“When I started thinking really hard about it, I bet most people would have two or three things right on the tip of their tongue they were ready to say they wanted to come to town,” he said. He realized “we need to tap into that.

“And once everybody knows the results, then every individual is empowered when out shopping to say something about wanting this business to come to Fort Wayne.”

He reasons that Fort Wayne people are already spending their money at these businesses, even if they have to travel to a different city to do it, and he’d prefer they spend their money at them right here at home.

“Some I know are a long shot, but you’ve got to try,” he said. He argues that having such popular and successful businesses in town speaks well of the community, serves people who already live here and can attract newcomers and visitors."



Specialty retail grocery store with its own store brands of hard-to-find foods and staff members in Hawaiian shirts. Started in 1958 as a chain of convenience stores named Pronto Markets. Then Joe, the founder, got a great idea. New stores opening in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Louisville and State College, Pa. Nearest stores in Indy, Ann Arbor and Dayton. 



Scandinavian modern-style furniture and home accessories. Company has an impressive record of commitment to recycling, energy conservation and sustainable resources practices in addition to good credentials in empowering women artisans and refusing to use the products of child labor. Nearest locations: Chicago, Cincinnati and Canton, Mich., on the west edge of Detroit. 



Founded in 1993 based on the savvy of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse founder Paul Fleming and the “grazing menu” Philip Chiang developed for his restaurant The Mandarette in West Hollywood, P.F. Chang’s has grown to a chain of more than 200 restaurants, each distinguished by a dramatic exterior setting the stage for the menu that combines classics with signature dishes at each stage of every meal. Growing. Nearest locations: Toledo, Indianapolis. 



Natural and organic products (plus how to cook and enjoy them) in a store where the staff is a team and sustainability is a cherished value. Soup to nuts food selections, plus household and personal care products and a well respected slate of store brand offerings. Growth from one store in 1980 in Austin, Tex., to more than 300 stores in North America and the United Kingdom. Growing but slowly in the Midwest. Nearest locations: Carmel, Indy, Ann Arbor and Columbus, Ohio. 



International chain of membership warehouses offering brand-name products  — from computers to personal care — at significantly lower costs than regular retail. Nearest locations: Toledo, Ann Arbor, Indianapolis, Merrillville. 



Furniture, kitchen, bath, bedroom, home decor, gifts and everyone's wedding and baby shower registry. The place to find Marimekko's unmistakeable silk-screened fabric products from Finland. Style and practicality. Growing, including new stores in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Nearest location: Indianapolis. Matches store size to the market. 



Iconic destination shopping/drooling over Apple products from the tiniest iPod to the newest iPad and the most fire-breathing computer (beautifully powerful and incredibly thin, of course). Software and accessories, too, plus the services of the Genius Bar to solve problems and teach you new tricks. Nearest location: Indianapolis or your college bookstore’s back corner. 



A casual, full-service restaurant that most people love for its namesake dessert, based on the recipe a Detroit housewife began selling to top restaurants in the 1940s. The founders’ son made the leap from wildly successful bakery (in Los Angeles) to a full restaurant in 1978, and Cheesecake Factory now has more than 300 locations, all sharing the successful mix of generous portions, fresh and inventive ingredients and plain old great taste from the original cheesecake. Nearest locations: Indianapolis, Chicago, Dayton. 



A fabled customer-first department store offering the best of the best with impeccable service. Apparel, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, fragrances and accessories for women, men and kids. Nearest locations: Indianapolis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Cincinnati. New store openings (often Nordstrom Rack, with savings of 30-50 percent) scheduled into 2013. 



 Expertly crafted home furnishings and decor for interior and exterior spaces. Nearest locations: Indianapolis and Toledo. 




This readers poll has been a learning experience, learning about what our readers like, where we’ve been and how we’d like to be here. It’s been fun to spend time with everyone’s best ideas about what businesses would be great additions to Fort Wayne.

And I have to admit that if I had voted at the beginning of the process, my list would have been very different from this list I present now. This list is much better because it is strengthened by all your great ideas, by what I learned from Andi Udris and Tom Smith and by considerable research into many, many of the businesses you invited to Fort Wayne.

For the most part, my list is no different than anyone else’s, but I’ve tried to make it into one that features businesses that

• Fort Wayne Monthly’s readers would love patronizing
• Might actually come here
• Might be that next Starbucks that Tom Smith talks about, and
• Bring something to town we don’t have now.



The concept: An upscale (but not TOO upscale) breakfast/lunch place with a good sense of style and great menu.

Nearest locations: All over Indy, also Valparaiso and South Bend

Why I chose it: I love Le Peep’s food and atmosphere, and it’s my whole family’s first choice for breakfast when we’re in Indianapolis. But I have two logical reasons, too. First, Le Peep would add a different vibe to breakfast in Fort Wayne. We can all continue to go to Spyro’s and Cosmos when we want the “small world” experience of breakfast at a place where we’ll inevitably see people we know. Le Peep offers a more laid-back feel, one where you feel OK to at least browse the sports or feature section while you’re waiting for your food to arrive. And be sure to order the Gooey Buns as your breakfast appetizer. Might make it a little hard to turn the newspaper pages, though. You’ve been warned. Second, Bill Eckrich, a Bishop Luers High School graduate, is president of Le Peep Restaurants of Indiana. I’m sure Fort Wayne can find room in its breakfast-loving heart for a Le Peep. All we need is for the right owner to step forward.



The concept: Supplier of gear and clothing for our area’s mix of outdoor activities.

Nearest locations: The closest Cabela’s is in Dundee, Mich., and there’s one in Hammond, too. REI will open its first Indiana store at Castleton in Indianapolis next spring. The closest Bass Pro Shop is in Perrysburg outside Toledo, with others in Portage and Clarksville, Ind.

Why I chose it: Cabela’s came in at No. 11, with REI and Bass Pro Shops adding enough votes that together, as the concept “outdoor store,” they would have risen to the middle of the Top 10. Any one of these stores would celebrate the great fishing and hunting easily accessible here as well as serve the growing number of people spending time outdoors to improve their fitness and because they love natural places like our parks and nature preserves. The high quality of our outdoor resources here is something the whole region should capitalize on — and something smart businesses like our local Fort Wayne Outfitters are already capitalizing on. Maybe we should just grow FWOutfitters into our signature outdoor store. Either option would be great.



The concept: Places that help us furnish, decorate, equip and love where we live

Nearest locations: IKEA in Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati. Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn are in Indianapolis.

Why I chose it: With three home/home furnishings stores in the Top 10, it’s obvious to me that Fort Wayne wants an additional home store. I’m open to whichever one from the Top 10 wants to come, noting for the record that Container Store and Homegoods (owned by TJ Maxx) were strong contenders for the top spots.



The concept: Healthy, delicious smoothies and snacks

Nearest locations: College campuses in Muncie and South Bend and Bowling Green, Ohio.

Why I chose it: Jamba Juice ranked well in the second group of businesses. It’s growing nationally and internationally. It’s open to conventional and non-conventional locations. It works hard to involve its customers in the Jamba Juice way of life, and its involved in its communities. I think it would be spectacularly successful downtown. Possibly in The Harrison, possibly on Calhoun or Wayne.



The concept: A tasting room and shop for wine and wine-related things featuring our nearest winery, Satek, from Fremont.

Nearest location: You can get some of the wines here, but you can’t get the whole Satek experience without going to the winery itself. I highly recommend a special trip to the winery, but why not offer an urban version easily combined with other activities, too?

Why I chose it: Having a signature winery and its shop in downtown Fort Wayne would be cool! It’s a destination sort of shop that would expose a lot of new customers to the brand whenever an arts event, stage performance, baseball game or convention is going on downtown, which is practically always. We might need to expand or add a second shop once Country Heritage Winery and Vineyard, just north of Huntertown in DeKalb County, is up to full production.



The concept: Blends developed by a spice-obsessed family whose members, friends and customers are great cooks, plus high quality individual spices from all over the world.

Nearest locations: Chicago, Indianapolis, Grand Rapids and Detroit, plus Columbus, Ohio.

Why I chose it: We don’t have anything like its combination of product, recipes and how well it involves its customers in the quest for great food made with the best spices. Penzey’s connects with everyone from barbecue sauce fanatics and chili contest competitors to haute and ethnic cuisine aficionados. It even has a great mix for pot roast. It’s growing, too, and already present in markets comparable to ours. I don’t think Penzey’s would be a hard sell to locate in Fort Wayne, and I think it would succeed in any of our larger, suburban shopping areas.



The concept: P.F. Chang’s polish presenting a menu stretching across five Asian cuisines, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Nearest location: Broad Ripple in Indy

Why I chose it: Pei Wei takes its menu a step farther than Fort Wayne’s stable of good to spectacular Chinese and Japanese restaurants. It’s my preference over P.F. Chang, which did make the Top 10, because I have faith it has the same polish and quality but because it offers even more. And wouldn’t you like Fort Wayne to be a little like Broad Ripple, too? I’m thinking a bigger-than-downtown space on Broadway, further south on Calhoun (already a nice spot for restaurants), new in River North or maybe Wells Street for a location.



The concept: Bulk, bargain buying of about anything you might need. Things with brand names.

Nearest locations: Indianapolis, Merrillville, Ann Arbor

Why I chose it: I’m not the only one who wants a Costco to enhance the bulk/bargain category stores already available in Fort Wayne. Our readers ranked it No. 5, remember. Costco gets great reviews from its loyal member customers, and I think we deserve a chance to spend wisely there, too. Obviously, Costco needs a big suburban location with lots of parking. We have those ready to go.



The concept: Quick, inexpensive world cuisine with both healthy and indulgent options.

Nearest locations: Bloomington, Indianapolis, Muncie

Why I chose it: Fort Wayne has just recently entered the world of noodle-based world cuisine with the opening of the Noodle Bowl on Coldwater Road, and I’m confident our capacity for noodles will support at least a few more restaurants. Noodles & Co. would come to town with a lot of good feelings from college days welcoming it. Probably needs a busy street-lots of traffic location. Downtown may or may not have enough foot traffic now, so somewhere more suburban would be fine.



The concept: Sandwiches emphasizing personal preference and personal expression.

Nearest location: Carmel

Why I chose it: We have Subway, Jimmy John’s, Penn Station, Garno’s and many restaurants and pizza places offer fabulous sandwiches, so what’s the point of another one? Which Wich sounds fun with its DIY sandwich bags and open invitation to decorate the back of your bag when you’re done eating and post it for all to enjoy. Strong vegetarian selections are a plus. I believe we can support another, fun sandwich shop. Possibly a good candidate for a downtown location.

Posted: Mon, 09/26/2011 - 2:49 pm
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:12 pm