Donna Kessler formerly of Calhoun Soups, Salads & Spirits, now D'lightfuls
When word got out that bar and restaurant -- CS3 – at 1915 South Calhoun St., was closing on August 18, 2018, after its lease had not been renewed, customers have kept owner Donna Kessler and her staff busy. Restaurant hours that have been historically slow are now routinely popping.
They come in to eat, reminisce, and elicit feelings. A CS3 waitress cried because a usual Saturday group will no longer meet on the regular at their spot.
“It’s been so gratifying these last few days, I never expected this,” Kessler said of the heartfelt and in-person support. “It’s definitely bittersweet.”
When the doors close, CS3 would have been opened for almost 11 years, according to Kessler.
Before the 11 years of active culinary duty, Kessler was in culinary school but detoured to work for her sister’s small business. “We had this great idea that we were going to open a bed and breakfast, but it never emerged,” Kessler said.
She returned to have “fun” at culinary school when she was asked by Kristen Burkett, the building’s owner at the time, to manage the restaurant in 2007.
The space was an antique store and some other ventures but was never a restaurant. The initial concept for the menu was to serve more “lunch-and-done [options].” The bar, and burgers and fries, were introduced to attract a dinner crowd.
When the housing market crashed in 2008/9, and the economy along with it, other city bars and restaurants closed. “We were still on our grace period, so we weren’t expected to make money yet,” Kessler said. “We survived [the downturn] because we had already had it all planned out to survive it.”
The opening of the Tiger Room, the backroom space that housed concerts, comedy shows, and luncheons, help reinvigorate the business after only a couple of years.
The Tiger Room opened avenues for outreach. “I’m most proud of our commitment to the community, all of the non for profits in Fort Wayne, all of the charities and events,” Kessler said. “We turned [the Tiger Room] into a beautiful community center that people knew they can visit, feel welcome and inviting.”
CS3 has seen five couples get married and countless proposals and first dates.
And the space provided bands a stage, sometimes with “all ages shows that wouldn’t be able to play somewhere,” Kessler said. Comedians, big names like Bobcat Goldthwait, and an impressive array of musicians, like Del the Funky Homosapien, have rocked the Tiger stage. Kessler suggested to hit up CS3’s Instagram feed for a more thorough listing; too many acts to recall on the spot.
The Tiger Room has also been the home for local African American artists. CS3 was the home for Music Lovers Lounge for six years. Victor Brown hosted poetry nights. Singer Fatima Washington performed and had photo shoots in the room. Kessler threw out Tasha DeNae’s name, but stopped there. Too many acts again to recall on the spot.
Kessler hopes the new ownership continues the tradition.
Kessler’s new organic deli, D’lightfuls
CS3’s catering bookings escalated and outgrew their smaller kitchen. From April to the end of June, “I didn’t have a single day when I wasn’t doing at least one [job]. One day I had three [jobs],” Kessler said. D’lightfuls, and its bigger kitchen, was originally designed to assist with their catering outgrowth.
For two years, Kessler and crew labored to transform the space across the street from CS3, at 1932 South Calhoun St., and D’lightfuls opened in April, with a deli menu (noodle bowls, flatbread, pizzas, and vegan options) soon to be bolstered with items from CS3 like salads, soups, wraps, subs, and paninis that Kessler is bringing with her.
Kessler is also bringing over some of the CS3 artwork and three servers to her new venture.
D’lightfuls | Deli & Tea Room | 1932 South Calhoun Street | Fort Wayne Indiana 46802 | 260.209.6847