Restaurant Notes extra: Proximo, Caliente Cuban Cafe and Ruth’s Chris apply for Downtown Dining District liquor licenses

The Rodriguez family, from left, Gus, son Nestor, and wife, Lily, are requesting a Downtown Dining District liquor license and plan to add a full bar as part of the remodeling they're doing at their second Caliente Cuban Cafe on Wayne Street. (File photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of

The number of recipients of a low-cost liquor license designed to encourage restaurants to open downtown could quadruple if City Council approves three applications Tuesday night.

The applicants are Proximo, a fine-dining Latin restaurant that plans to open this spring at 898 Harrison St. in the Ash Skyline Plaza; Caliente Cuban Cafe, 120 W. Wayne St., that’s adding a full bar and tripling its occupancy space; and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, set to open May 7 on the ground floor of Skyline Tower that’s under construction.

Proximo is going into the space that was occupied by the Golden until its November closure. The Golden had the first of these liquor licenses, which cost a nonrefundable $1,000 filing fee and a $2,500 annual membership fee. That’s low compared to traditional three-way liquor licenses, which have sold for $100,000 or more. It also bypasses the state’s quota system.

Nawa, the Asian-fusion restaurant at 126 W. Columbia St. on the historic Landing, currently holds the only dining district liquor license. By the way, due to demand, it began serving Saturday lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. this weekend.

“There will be more,” said Bill Brown, Downtown Improvement District president, of future dining district applications.

Some recent restaurants, including Hoppy Gnome at Clinton and Berry streets, and which is also operated by the partnership behind Proximo, and Tolon on Harrison Street near The Landing came in before City Council created the downtown dining district in 2015, Brown said.

Having the special license comes with caveats including being open a certain number of days a year and requiring non-liquor sales to account for at least half the total. That ensures that the city’s planned riverfront won’t just be populated by bars.

The goal also is to make it affordable for small operations, such as the Rodriguez family’s second Caliente location to create a downtown destination that will draw in people.

Owner Gustavo Rodriguez, whose son Nestor and daughter-in-law manage the Wayne Street Cuban restaurant, says in the application that they plan to add a full bar, demolish the kitchen and rebuild, which would triple the occupancy to 150. It would also expand its staffing from 8 to 12, or perhaps up to 20. Work has already begun with newly painted red walls in place of the orange. It wants to use the alleys as walkway and shortcut through downtown like larger cities are doing, Rodriguez says in the application. The goal is to have work completed by August.

The original location on State Boulevard started by Gustavo and his wife, who came with their family from Cuba in 2000, by the way, plans to get an updated facade, improved kitchen and updated equipment. So money that might have gone into a high-cost liquor license can go into the family’s dreams for its current locations.

Ruth’s Chris plans a May 7 opening of its 13,380-square-foot upscale restaurant. The principals own and operate all of the other Ruth’s Chris Steak House restaurants in Indiana, in South Bend/Mishawaka, downtown Indianapolis and at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis.

James Khan, president of the group that owns BakerStreet Steakhouse, the Hoppy Gnome, Gnometown Brewing Co., and now Proximo said in his application that the newest restaurant plans to be open seven days a week and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Downtown has been lacking a sit-down upscale restaurant that would meet the demands for a breakfast meeting, it says on the application.

We don’t see why City Council would refuse the applications, so we hope to toast the new recipients in the coming months.

Council meeting

WHAT: City Council meets

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Room 35 on Garden Level of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St.

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