Welcome to the Redwood Inn

Every day a new face

Redwood Inn's sausage roll, photography by Neal Bruns

Even though its name turns out to have nothing to do with the redwood tree, the Redwood Inn on West Main Street has deep roots in the Nebraska neighborhood.

Current owner Mark Nei, whose family has the same deep neighborhood roots, is helping the place put out some pretty healthy new shoots, all without jeopardizing any of the pre-existing growth. You’ve probably noticed the new patio, too. It’s a big hit. But not too big. There’s a balance it’s important to maintain at the Redwood.

“Over the years, I’ve seen this place so busy, so crazy busy,” he said, “the cars filled the streets. When I was a kid, the cars would wrap around the block. But over the years I would see it go backwards. The previous owners were ready to retire. I thought I could take it and possibly pick it up, keep it going, make it better.”

So, without any previous experience in the restaurant business, he has done just that. He rehired one former Redwood cook, kept another and otherwise the staff is all new. The menu, however, is not. It is the same, except for the addition of breaded mushrooms, mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers, he said.

“The previous owners came up with some really good recipes on the food, and that’s why I choose to leave them the way they are,” he said. “And the food has always been real good.”

It’s good enough he can’t cite a favorite. He remembers “the grinders I probably started eating first. The grinders are great. But the sausage rolls have always been good. The Greek salads are great. And I’d never had clam chowder until I bought this place, and I love it.”

The charm of the Redwood Inn is that you can count on it. And people do.

The food is nowhere near fancy, but it’s tasty and consistent. The big sandwiches, the stromboli and Italian grinder, are also available as half sizes. You can order a classic (ordinary?) Italian beef sandwich or go for the Redwood version loaded with sautéed onions, mushrooms and green peppers. And the meatball sandwich is not just a meatball sandwich. It’s the Meatball Supreme, the headlining part of the sandwich nestled on a base of pepperoni slices, surrounded with mozzarella, green peppers, onion and pizza sauce and then topped with lettuce, tomato, black olives, pepperoncinis and Italian dressing.

The barbecued pork ribs come with a homemade sauce. The chili is a house recipe, too. The Greek salad is the longtime (but now not so easy to find) Fort Wayne classic, beets, pineapple and all. Pizza offerings are all the classics, and the specials board highlights creative and  favorite combinations.

Nei makes sure his staff greets all customers as they enter, and then the Redwood ambiance takes over until the food arrives.

“The people that have been coming here for the past 40, 50 years like to see everything remain the same,” he said. “They don’t mind me changing the outside. But they love the ambiance. They love to come in and be sitting where they have been sitting for the past 40, 50 years.

“Everyone loves the changes outside, and they like it that I have left the inside alone.”

Nei grew up watching the traffic fill up the neighborhood when people came to the Redwood Inn, which got its name in 1962 when its then-owner painted the front of the even-then-old building red. Nei has a newspaper article that says the Redwood is the city’s second oldest bar, open continuously since 1893. The Nebraska neighborhood grew up around the Wabash-Erie canal and then around the railroads that made the canal obsolete. The business that is now the Redwood Inn was simply one of the neighborhood’s many taverns, hotels, shops and restaurants that served the canal and railroad workers.

Today, though, the Redwood Inn is both an unchanged and unchanging neighborhood watering hole and a happening place in the city’s social scene. It’s being discovered by new people all the time, Nei said, people who like its dim, cozy interior and/or its fun new outdoor patio. Nei is adding space for cornhole games and possibly horseshoe courts.

The sign they were able to put outside last winter saying that celebrity chef Alton Brown had tasted their sausage roll and liked it didn’t hurt a bit, either. Word like that travels fast.

But the patio has proved to be the best attractor of the curious.

“The patio caught their eye and brings them in,” he said, “people who have driven past for years and never saw the place.

“We are getting many new faces. Every day there’s a new face.”

And every new face gets a friendly greeting.

Redwood Inn

1432 W. Main St.
(260) 426-7543 • Find us on Facebook
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Specialties: Neighborhood bar inside plus fun outdoor patio. Known for sausage rolls, grinders, pizza, clam chowder and Greek salads.

First appeared in the August 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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