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Posted on Fri. Jun. 13, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

New Citizens Square cafe: More variety -- at no cost to the taxpayer

Ten vendors will rotate menus, beginning July 7

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Starting July 7, there will be a new restaurant in downtown Fort Wayne – or nine, depending on one's point of view.

And, unlike the café they will replace, none will be subsidized by the taxpayers.

“We sent a survey to our employees and they overwhelmingly said they preferred a rotation of restaurants,” said City Controller Pat Roller, explaining the imminent replacement of the Ceruti's café in the basement of Citizens Square, 299 E. Berry St., with a diverse set of 10 revolving vendors with names familiar to the public: Bandido's, Fazoli's, KFC, Mancino's, Moe's Southwest Grill, Panda Express, Pizza Hut, Subway and the Bagel Station. Ceruti's will also participate.

Unlike the previous contract with Ceruti's, which included city subsidies of $52,621 in 2012, $42,591 in 2013 and $17,626 this year, Roller said the new agreement requires the vendors to pay the city 5 percent of their gross receipts.

“Our goal isn't to make money, but we don't want to lose money, either,” Roller said. “I was always a little uncomfortable with the subsidies. But we had never been in the restaurant business before (Ceruti's café opened in 2011).”

Before city and county government offices moved to Citizens Square, they shared space in the former City-County Building (now Rousseau Centre), which also had a café but was owned by the county. City spokesman John Perlich said the Ceruti's café met expectations during the startup phase of Citizens Square.

Although the restaurant is used primarily by city and county employees and is believed to promote efficiency by keeping them in the building, it was and will remain open to the public as well. The employees' enthusiasm for various vendors may have been linked to the increased varieties of food that will now be available, Roller said.

Ceruti's owner Joe Ceruti said he and the other vendors will have to adjust to consumer tastes if they want to make money on the deal. Meals will not be cooked on site but will be brought in.

“It will be more of an educated guess on the menu, a risk that if we bring in 100 we might sell 30. Time will tell (how it works,” he said. The vendors will rotate every other week, he added, and the café operates from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For the first time, vending machines will also be available. By state law, they must be operated by groups representing the blind, Roller said.

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