Business Weekly, August 2-8, 2013, Fort Wayne, Indiana
HOPEFUL FOR A HIT
Looking to take advantage of traffic from Parkview Field, other nearby venues, Rudy’s opens in long-distressed neighborhood - By Rick Farrant
Rudy Maraha Sr., with his well-sculpted Hemingway-esque beard, stout build and blue eyes that have the look of great distances and even greater stories, might pass for a veteran sea captain.
But the 60-year-old Mahara is not a sea captain. He is the president of Mahara Wealth Partners in Fort Wayne. And he has chosen to dock his dreams on a land-locked island of 25 mostly worn older homes and buildings on West Brackenridge Street, immediately southwest of Parkview Field.
It is a somewhat distressed downtown block the city hopes will one day emerge as a thriving multiuse area, and Mahara is the first since Parkview Field's debut in 2009 to arrive on the island with a commercial enterprise: the aptly named Rudy's.
It is an unlikely business for the area: a quaint, first-floor retail outlet in a renovated 1891 Queen Anne that will sell Indiana wines, Indiana microbrews, cigars and DeBrand Fine Chocolates. The second floor is zoned residential and will be occupied by a private corporation of cigar aficionados.
Mahara, who officially opened Rudy's on July 31 after investing about $200,000 in the place, has all kinds of reasons for thinking the unique business will be a success, not the least of which is a small, beckoning red neon sign perched near the peaked eaves of the building.
“One thing for sure is that the stadium is 250 feet away from me and there's (thousands) of people 70 times a year that walk by the stadium and when they leave, they can't help but see the neon sign up there,” he said.
“The other thing for sure is that housing is going in across the street and there will be development there. And so that will only enhance this.”
But even if the business doesn't flourish, Mahara believes it could easily be transitioned back to living quarters that in this era might fetch a better-than-decent rental price because of the building’s location. City Redevelopment Director Greg Leatherman is among those rooting for Mahara.
“I give Rudy credit for blazing a trail,” Leatherman said. “He's stepping out. He’s doing it with passion. Time will tell, but I want him to be successful. I’m just hoping the success will be long-term and year-round.”
Mahara, one of the founders of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne and in the financial-planning business for 30 years, said the idea for Rudy’s came gradually and pretty much by accident.
“In no way did I envision anything like this,” he said. “It just evolved.”
He purchased the building at 409 W. Brackenridge three years ago, thinking he might move his financial-planning business there from its location on West Jefferson Boulevard near Jefferson Pointe. One thing led to another.
On a whim while he was surfing the internet, he applied for a liquor license and to his surprise received one. Then he bought the assets of the Esquire Cigar Club on Thomas Road, including the club's inventory of cigars, humidor lockers, couches, tables, chairs, flat-screen televisions and wooden Indian sculptures. The next development was pure serendipity.
“My wife (Susan) was tasting some wines in Madison, Indiana, and they gave her a sweet wine and a piece of chocolate,” he said. “And her mouth exploded like a chocolate-covered cherry. And she said, ‘We've got to see if we can put DeBrand's in Rudy's.’”
DeBrand co-owner Cathy Brand-Beere agreed to offer the Fort Wayne company's chocolates for sale at Mahara's enterprise, and the concept for Rudy's began to take shape.
It is more than a quick-transaction business. There is a walk-in cigar humidor, although no smoking is allowed inside the first floor at Rudy’s or immediately outside; a 15-seat wine-tasting area in a cozy dining room; 60 seats under umbrellas in a spacious “beer garden” at the rear of the business; and about 20 seats on the front porch and lawn bordered by a white-picket fence.
On game days, Mahara said, Rudy's will fire up a grill and offer hot dogs and sausages to patrons. “Beer and wine and chocolates and hot dogs: Who doesn't like that?” he asked. When baseball is not in season, he envisions Rudy's as a place where people can settle in for a drink or two, friendly conversation and perhaps a bite of chocolate.
“I think the biggest business,” he said, “will be women coming in and tasting a sweet wine and having a piece of chocolate in the afternoon during happy hour. It's a happy-hour kind of place.
“It will be a fun atmosphere and the types of things that we might do with entertainment would include the symphony to some type of acoustic-guitar performances. There are so many possibilities.”
Although the impetus for the business was the proximity to Parkview Field and the minor-league baseball games played there, Mahara also expects to see patrons from the nearby Grand Wayne Convention Center, the Harrison apartment complex, hotels and the soon-to-be-developed four-acre plot across the street from Rudy's.
The city has bought most of the properties on that plot west of Parkview Field between Brackenridge and West Jefferson, and Leatherman said demolition of roughly a dozen structures will be carried out through the end of September.
The city will then seek development of multifamily housing, and “we're going to try to create a situation that provides us with the highest quality housing we can get.”
Mahara owns up to the fact that one of his goals with Rudy's is to plan for his retirement. Money from the retail business will help, as will the lease to the corporation that will use the well-appointed and well-ventilated second floor as a drinking, smoking, TV-watching, card-playing hangout.
Mahara identified the corporation as Maduros LLC, but declined to reveal the corporation's members. He said the corporation's activities have nothing to do with Rudy's downstairs and noted that corporation members will access their lair through a private entrance.
Money aside, there are other, more altruistic reasons for Rudy's.
Mahara said he wants to be one of the catalysts for a better downtown and encourage others, particularly some of the well-off customers of Rudy's, to take a similar interest in improving the area while at the same time appreciating the struggles of his neighbors on Brackenridge.
It may sound a bit convoluted, this idea of mixing development by people of means with a recognition of those less fortunate. But there is a thread of reason, and the heart of the bearded man on the urban island is evident when he talks about what he wants others to see.
"As I've met my neighbors on Brackenridge," Mahara said, "they're all good people. They've just had a poor twist in their lives. So, one, I want to help turn that neighborhood around. And I've given many of them work and jobs to help me."
He also wants others who have money to adopt the same kind of attitude toward the neighborhood and perhaps invest in it.
"I want 'em to see it," Mahara said emphatically. "I want 'em to see it. One day, there were four half-million-dollar cars parked out there and one of the guys says, 'You know, I saw a guy go through a garbage can and I felt like I should give him some money.'
"And I said, 'You know what, they're all just like you and I, but the circumstances of life are different.' I want others to help develop the area but be cognizant of the people there. I think there's a way for me to have a foot in both worlds and make a contribution."
Rudy Mahara Sr., with wife Susan, envisions solid patronage for his wine, beer, cigar and chocolate business from people attending Fort Wayne TinCaps games.
“I give Rudy credit for blazing a trail. He’s stepping out. He’s doing it with passion. Time will tell, but I want him to be successful. I’m just hoping the success will be long-term and year-round.” - Greg Leatherman, City Redevelopment Director