Bird & Cleaver was an idea long before it took shape as the newest restaurant on downtown Fort Wayne’s Historic Wells Street Corridor this fall.
Long-time Fort Wayne residents John and Lindsay Cheesebrew have always had a passion for food. Before opening the restaurant, the couple attended culinary school and worked in the food industry, but chef hours just didn’t suit their young family.
Seeking a creative outlet with food, they started a blog that garnered attention from publications like Huffington Post and The Kitchn. After years of pop-ups, private events, catering and collaboration, Bird & Cleaver has finally found a place to roost.
The Cheesebrews fell in love with the 118-plus-year-old building at 1603 North Wells St. Previously, the building was a doctor’s office on the first floor with an apartment on the second floor. After 16 months of renovations, the restaurant opened its doors to customers.
“We want you to feel at home, like you’re coming to our house, so doing it in an old house made perfect sense to us,” Lindsay said.
The couple said the Historic Wells Street Corridor is an exciting place to be right now with the nearby development of the riverfront. They appreciate the neighborhood’s walkability and the beautiful storefronts of nearby businesses. It’s an area in transition, Lindsay said.
“I think within the next five years, it’s going to look really different.”
The restaurant’s name, Bird & Cleaver, first stemmed from a nickname that John gave Lindsay and it reflects their approach to food.
“I tend to eat more vegetarian and healthy and John…” Lindsay trails off. He likes his meat and his knives like most male chefs, she laughed.
“We wanted that juxtaposition of male and female, soft and hard, vegetarian and meat-centric. That’s where the idea came from,” she said.
The Cheesebrews let the menu speak for itself, but customers have described it as “comfort food elevated,” they said.
The menu features a mixture of comfort food classics like the Night Moves meatloaf sandwich and equally comforting vegan options like the Hillbilly Fondue, a cheesy dip that just happens to not contain any cheese. The restaurant goes through six liters of the stuff each day.
Non-vegan customers order the Hillbilly Fondue and vegan chocolate cake because they’re delicious, Lindsay said, and people who happen to be vegan are excited because they have options.
While more restaurants are offering vegan substitutes like ordering three side dishes as a meal or a big salad, the tradeoff is often not as satisfying, John said.
“A non-vegan can order (a vegan entrée) and be completely satisfied by it ,” he said.
The food is approachable, with a spin on techniques and ingredients that you can’t find anywhere else in town, the couple said. Before opening the restaurant, they noticed a gap in the Fort Wayne dining scene.
“There’s nothing mid casual,” Lindsay said.
They wanted to fill that gap by creating a space where people can enjoy farm-fresh ingredients at an affordable price. Entrees range from $6 to $13.
“We want people to feel comfortable and at home,” John said. “It’s really common for people to finish a meal and hang out for 30-40 minutes afterwards because it’s comfortable. You feel welcome and you don’t feel like you have to rush out. It’s bright and inviting.”
The Cheesebrews said they were going for a warmer look when they were decorating the restaurant’s interior – a bright space with lots of plants and personal touches like framed pictures of their grandmothers.
“This ‘white’ (paint) is actually the most pale pink,” Lindsay said. “I wanted something that was neutral but feminine.”
Out back, there is additional seating on the patio.
In the restaurant’s first months, it has welcomed a range of clientele from groups of teenagers to customers in their 90s.
“It’s really interesting to see how all these different age groups really appreciate this space, and they’re enjoying it,” she said.
Bird & Cleaver
1603 North Wells Street, Fort Wayne
Lunch hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner hours: 5-9 p.m.