Community Spotlight: Warsaw
Warsaw, Indiana, has extraordinary amenities for a city with a population just under 15,000.
The reason for this is Warsaw’s indisputable status as the “Orthopedic Capital of the World.”
“Silicon Valley has computers. Detroit has cars. But in orthopedic devices, the undisputed world capital is Warsaw,” wrote Timothy Aeppel in The Wall Street Journal in 2006. “Three of the world’s five largest makers of artificial joints and related surgical tools have their headquarters here amid the lakes and fields of northeastern Indiana.”
Warsaw’s high-paying orthopedic industry lures workers who expect a certain quality of life, according to Rob Parker, president and CEO of the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce. And it also brings in clients from all over the world who require wining and dining.
So it is understandable that Warsaw’s downtown has been booming of late. It has seen an influx in recent years of restaurants that would be considered bold and exciting if they opened in Fort Wayne (population 264,000) or Indianapolis (864,000).
“(Clients) expect to have a quality lunch or dinner, and employees expect to have places where they can bring their guests,” said Parker. “I have covered multiple states in my jobs over the years, and I can’t find any other town that compares to the unique restaurants we have in Warsaw and Winona Lake.”
One of those restaurants is the Oak & Alley, a gourmet burger joint. Dave Gustafson owns it and an adjacent coffeehouse.
Most new restaurants have to worry about getting people in the door. They have to endure a preliminary period of uncertainty or hardship. Not the Oak & Alley.
Business has been “gangbusters” from the start, said Gustafson. “It’s just been record month after record month,” he said.
Indianapolis Monthly described the Oak & Alley as the “home base” for “a hipster colony in the City of Lakes.”
When the Oak & Alley opened in 2014, the alley referenced in the name wasn’t really anything to brag about. But that ended this past summer after the city completed a crowd-funded “alley activation” project.
The alley is now a public space with seating areas, free Wi-Fi, attractive foliage and a rotating art exhibit.
The walkway in the alley is made of runner’s asphalt and is decorated with a blue-and-white inlay pattern.
Down the road from the Oak & Alley is another relatively new restaurant, the One Ten Craft Meatery.
The One Ten Craft Meatery is a farm-to-table shrine dedicated to the glories of expertly raised and prepared local meat. It consists of a restaurant in the front and a butcher shop in the back.
The menu includes a “bacon flight” (like a wine flight or beer flight, but with bacon); a fancy spin on Indiana’s signature sandwich, the pork tenderloin; and a steak covered in portabella mushrooms that have been fried in duck fat.
Another notable new addition to the Warsaw culinary scene is the Redwood Firewood Grill on Center Lake. The Redwood Firewood Grill is a true rarity in the northern Indiana restaurant realm: a South American steakhouse.
Spiffy new businesses in downtown Warsaw are not limited to restaurants. For example, there is Vino Cane (pronounced “Vino Cah-nay”).
Vino Cane combines two of its proprietor’s loves: fine wine and dogs. Yes, Vino Cane is a place where you can sample and buy excellent wines, and it is also a place where you can share your dog love with other dog lovers.
Owner Michelle Stavrou said shelter animals can be visited at Vino Cane during the week and wine lovers can bring their own dogs in on Saturdays.
Stavrou is a veteran of the orthopedics industry who decided to leave the corporate world behind and realize this dream. She is no master sommelier, but she knows a lot about wine.
Vino Cane is quite a sophisticated hangout with three tiers’ worth of stylish, bottle-lined, wine-quaffing space.
Gustafson said he thinks it’s an exceedingly good time to open a well-conceived business in or around downtown Warsaw.
“It’s like a match to dry wood,” he said.
One can’t-miss establishment on the outskirts of downtown is the Noa Noa Wood Grill/Spikes Beach Grill complex.
The Noa Noa Wood Grill is an island-themed eatery devoted to inventive seafood preparations and tiki culture. It also has a sushi bar with counter.
Spikes Beach Grill, which is part of the same structure as the Noa Noa Wood Grill, is like a theme park dedicated to seaside recreation. Step into Spikes’ enclosed inner courtyard, with its volleyball courts and plane-topped outdoor amphitheater, and you will have an easy time convincing yourself you are in Florida instead of Warsaw. The amphitheater has a small plane parked on top of it.
Nearby Winona Lake is another major destination for orthopedic industry employees and their clients. The summer resort town and onetime religious retreat went into a deep decline in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1994, Warsaw entrepreneurs Dane Miller and Brent Wilcoxson spearheaded a revitalization project.
The town’s Swiss-style cottages and its Billy Sunday House were saved, and a sprawling shopping concept called the Village at Winona was created.
These days, the Village at Winona is home to Cerulean, a world-class restaurant specializing in sushi and small plates.
Winona Lake’s canal, storybook cottages, art galleries, unique shops and lakeside setting make it one of the more picturesque and distinctive tourist destinations in Indiana.
Parker said 4.3 percent of Kosciusko County’s land mass is covered with water.
“Most other counties are at about one percent,” he said. “So we truly are the land of lakes. Everybody loves to hang out on the water. Combine that with a great economic base and growth, a really great lifestyle, affordability…it’s a great place to be.”
The challenges for someone like Parker are different than they’d be for a chamber of commerce president in a city that isn’t doing quite as well as Warsaw is.
Unemployment in Warsaw is at 2.7 percent, a figure Parker characterizes as hyper-unemployment. “If you’re under that 4 percent,” he said, “It really causes businesses some strain on maximizing profitability.”
Businesses that can’t hire enough workers naturally start thinking about automation or sending jobs elsewhere, he said.
“They’re tough decisions and, frankly, they’re caused by a great economy,” he said. “It’s a great problem to have, but it’s still a problem.”
Parker said the chamber has developed a social media ad campaign targeting regions with much higher unemployment rates.
“We’re trying to give them a high-level overview of the jobs we have and the great quality of life we have,” he said. “I am trying recruit people.”
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said there is a lot of workforce development in the community.
Ivy Tech Community College has a program that teaches CNC lathing to Warsaw Community High School juniors and seniors.
“There is a continuation after they’re finished,” he said. “When you are done with this program, you are able – within six months – to get a high-paying job on the orthopedic floor.”
Thallemer said Kosciusko County is one of only three counties in Indiana where compensation for employees is above the national average.
“Our population is up 8.1 percent since 2010,” he said. “So there are people moving into the community to take these jobs. There’s just a dynamic there: There are opportunities; there’s good quality of life and quality of place in our community.”