Restaurant Notes extra: Former Blue Mountain owner returning to business with West Central coffeehouse in St. John Lutheran Church building

St. John Lutheran Church will lease this storefront for a coffeehouse to welcome its West Central neighbors. (Photo courtesy of St. John Lutheran Church)
St. John Lutheran Church's Pastor Paul Offhaus stands in the vacant building that the church plans to lease for a coffeehouse on the first floor and two apartments on the second. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Stickers from past tenants fill the door to the freight area where St. John Lutheran Church's Pastor Paul Offhaus stands in the vacant building that the church plans to lease for a coffeehouse on the first floor and two apartments on the second. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
St. John Lutheran Church's Pastor Paul Offhaus plans to create two second-floor apartments in this vacant building at 1006 Broadway, above a planned coffeehouse. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Greenspace stands next to 1006 Broadway where a patio for a planned coffeehouse will go. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)

Bruce Robinson started what’s believed to have been Fort Wayne’s first coffeehouse over 40 years ago. If plans continue, he’ll be back in the coffeehouse business, this time as part of an endeavor by St. John Lutheran Church to serve its West Central neighbors.

Robinson is working with the church to lease the building at 1006 Broadway, which has stood vacant since around 2003 when A-1 Mark’s Appliance moved to the building across the street. Images and designs went up in the storefront last week for the West Central Coffee project. It shows a patio on the north side of the building that’s currently greenspace. Parking will be available in the church’s lot.

If he can talk the former baker in it, he’ll be offering the cheesecakes for which Blue Mountain was known and some of the other menu items, along with new dishes. He doesn’t want to give away too much, but says “we’ll make a nice venue” for coffee drinkers and diners.

The greenspace is a pretty noisy corner of Broadway and West Washington Boulevard, so he’ll likely be looking at some landscaping to dampen the sounds. An alleyway between the building and its neighbor to the south could use an iron gate and an enclosure with more outdoor seating.

The main space inside is divided between the front and back. At the rear will be a stage for live musical acts and the kitchen. Old wood shelves and a floating ladder from its mercantile past remain and Robinson would like to get some memorabilia in the area. He’s also looking for old Blue Mountain items, so if you have any and are willing to part with them, contact me at the number below and I’ll connect you with him.

Robinson started Blue Mountain in 1976 with a group on The Landing, where Utopian Coffee plans to build a coffeehouse, part of the $35 million project on the historic Columbia Street block under way to create housing and trendy shops. Robinson is looking into Utopia as the coffeehouse coffee supplier.

After graduating from college they had two choices: either start a coffeehouse or a radio station. “The equipment for a radio station was too expensive,” Robinson said.

It went well for six years and he sold it, but it later went out of business. He went on to a couple of other restaurant business partnerships in Ernie’s Steakhouse and Park Place Grill before settling into a job at BAE. When an early retirement package came along at the same time the church was planning a coffeehouse, he decided to get back into the java business.

The Broadway building, also previously home to George J. Phillipps & Sons, a church supplies store, will also have two second-story apartments for rent, providing yet another income stream for the church, said Pastor Paul Offhaus.

The effort fits in with the church’s mission statement, he said:

“Fed and Led by God, we live as a neighbor –

“- in the West Central community,

“- the city of Fort Wayne, and

“- all the world.”

With music and art displays planned, the venture also blends with the West Central neighborhood, Offhaus said, home to the Castle Gallery and the origins of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and Indiana University art school. The church, 729 W. Washington Blvd., is using a grant for over $80,000 it received in 2017 from Lutheran Foundation to pay for repairs and renovation to the building, which has served as storage. Late last year it also received a grant of $21,500 from Lutheran Foundation’s one-time 501+ Reformation Grant program to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Robinson’s brother, Dennis, who’s a member of the church, has helped move the project forward.

He learned from his daughter, who’s a pastor in Orlando, Fla., about a book, “The Art of Neighboring.” It describes how the best way that a church can help its community is just by being a good neighbor. St. John got copies and started looking at ways to do that.

The coffeehouse developed from that.

“The idea behind this is by offering a way for the community to gather,” Dennis Robinson said.

It will allow West Central residents to walk and bike to the coffeehouse to meet with friends, he said.

The idea isn’t to draw them in to make them church members, he said.

“Jesus’ only commandment, other than to love the Lord, was to love your neighbor as yourself.”

The 167-year-old church might not have been viewed as a good neighbor in 2003 when it created a flap over plans to demolish the building. St. John’s elementary school was growing at that time and the space was needed for an expansion, Offhaus said. The school since has closed and the space is now rented by Smith Academy for Excellence.

The coffeehouse will continue a revitalization of the 1000 block of Broadway, with the surviving five buildings dating to 1885-1925. The street was planned as a commercial corridor known as Market Street. One building on the north corner was torn down and the wall of the coffeehouse building has been reinforced. The other four structures are all occupied by businesses: The Hedge custom printer at 1016 Broadway, Sassie Cakes bakery at 1014 Broadway, William L. Lupkin Designs stained-glass studio at 1012 Broadway and the building at 1010 Broadway owned by Lupkin’s son.

The church is inviting West Central residents, businesses, and St. John members Thursday evening to a block party at the church. The congregation is also involved in Wellspring Interfaith Social Services, also on Broadway, and in early August it’s inviting 75 children served by Wellspring to a grill out followed by a TinCaps minor-league baseball game at Parkview Field. It also will allow parking in its lot during the Broadway Street Stroll noon-6 p.m. Sunday, which is offering pop-up art and music. Also, each Wednesday evening the church serves a community meal that includes hot dogs and hamburgers outside near the grill during good weather.

Have restaurant news? Call Lisa M. Esquivel Long at 260-461-8354, send email to lesquivel@news-sentinel.com or a fax to 260-461-8817 or write Restaurant Notes, C/O The News-Sentinel, PO Box 102, Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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