It's official! You can now sip a boozy brunch drink while shopping Fort Wayne's YLNI Farmers Market

What's better than browsing the YLNI Farmers Market on Saturday morning in Fort Wayne? Doing it with your favorite brunch food—and booze—in hand.

That’s the concept behind a new event called Brunch on Barr that begins Saturday, May 1, in downtown Fort Wayne at the Grand Opening of the 17th annual outdoor YLNI Farmers Market, and the verdict is already in.

“We are stoked,” says Market Manager Ashley Wagner.

Ashley Wagner, right, is the Market Manager for the Barr Street Market.

Launched by Wagner’s team at the YLNI Market, Brunch on Barr not only allows shoppers to maximize their experience, but also provides alcohol vendors with a much-needed opportunity to boost sales during the pandemic, which has disproportionally hurt bars and restaurants.

That’s part of the strategy behind the concept, Wagner says, noting that state excise police have worked closely with her team to make it happen.

“Excise sees how everything was shut down during the pandemic, and how that hurt alcohol vendors, breweries, and bars,” Wagner says. “They just want everybody to be able to get back to business.”

A pre-pandemic photo of the crowd at the weekly YLNI Farmers Market.

Since 2019, the YLNI Farmers Market on historic Barr Street has technically had alcohol vendors on site. But those vendors have been limited to liquor and beer only, and patrons had to drink within roped-off portions of the market.

“It created some logistical challenges because you could only have one alcohol vendor per roped-off area,” Wagner says.

This year, all of that has changed. By creating a separate event called Brunch on Barr, the market was able to secure the necessary permits to allow liquor, beer, wine, cider, and microbrewery vendors to participate and to allow shoppers to carry drinks throughout the marketplace.

While Brunch on Barr is technically its own event, it will operate on the same footprint as the market, with most of the food and drink vendors parked in the Southeast corner of Barr and Wayne Streets. This space was previously occupied by the separate Ft. Wayne Farmer’s Market, which has relocated to McCulloch Park near Electric Works.

The historic Barr Street Market behind the History Center was the city's first public meeting space.

Just weeks away from May 1, Wagner says everything is falling into place for a successful boozy brunch Grand Opening to the outdoor market, which will run every Saturday through September, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Before the pandemic, it drew crowds averaging 8,000 every Saturday. 

So far, Wagner has three alcohol vendors participating in Brunch on Barr, including Hotel Tango Fort Wayne (HT2), Ambrosia Orchard Cidery & Meadery, and Chapman’s Brewing Company.

“We’re definitely interested in getting more alcohol vendors if anyone is interested,” she says.

In looking at other farmers markets across the country, Wagner hasn’t seen any offering a similar open-container, brunch-like market experience. The idea was first brought to her in 2018 by HT2, who wanted to participate in the market.

Megan Mavris, General Manager of HT2 at 10212 Chestnut Plaza Dr., says her team hopes Brunch on Barr will help them reach a broader crowd of customers in the Fort Wayne area.

“Not only are we looking to grow, but we’re trying to get who we are out there,” she says. “We’ve been in Fort Wayne since 2017, but there are a lot of people who still have not heard about us. So we think that if we give people a chance to experience our drinks at the market, that will attract them to our Southwest location.”

HT2 plans to attend 11 Brunch on Barr events this summer. In keeping with the theme of a “farmers market brunch,” they will be serving mimosas and Bloody Marys—all made from scratch and featuring natural ingredients.

“In our mimosas, we use a Prosecco, which is a little sweeter than a champagne, and we will be fresh squeezing our own orange juice, so they will be extremely fresh,” Mavris says. “We make Bloody Marys with our Hotel Tango Vodka and our own Bloody Mary mix, too, so we’re going to have really fresh products at the market for everyone to enjoy.”

HT2 will be serving mimosas and Bloody Marys at the YLNI Farmers Market in 2021.

Another vendor, Ambrosia Orchard, says they plan to serve light and fruit-themed drinks, as well.

“We’re going to offer two drafts and also two bottled beverages,” says Co-Owner Blanca Bender. “We’ll have some traditional stuff and some fun spinoff drafts that are lighter.”

One drink will be called Viva Limon, which means “live lime.”

“It’s a really nice, light sparkling summer drink with lime and agave nectar, so it will be refreshing with breakfast,” Bender says. “We’re also going to have a fruity one, so you can get your weekly fruit intake.”

“This is really the best way to get your fruits!” she jokes.

Blanca and Edison Bender Co-Own Ambrosia Orchard Cidery & Meadery at 14025 US-27 in Hoagland.

Speaking of fruit, Bender says her team will be selling apples from their 12-acre orchard at the market, too, once apple season hits. In the meantime, they’re just excited to have another way to support Fort Wayne’s growing and innovative community that made a boozy farmers market happen.

“We haven’t had a really cool opportunity like this, as a market or a business yet, so we’re pretty excited,” Bender says. “We’re invested in the YLNI Market, as individuals, so being able to support it as a vendor is a double bonus for us.”

YLNI volunteers arrive early to help set up for the Barr Street Market.

Along with a whole lot of fun, Wagner and others hope Brunch on Barr helps the YLNI Market get back to its original intent of being an “immersive event” for the city, rather than merely a market for shopping.

“Our idea has always been to create a relaxing atmosphere and an event where you can hang out and have a good time—not just stop, shop, and leave,” Wagner says. “Last year, with the pandemic, it was more a mindset of, ‘Get what you need and go,’ so we’re excited to welcome an event-like atmosphere back with Brunch on Barr.”

Also new at the market

Along with Brunch on Barr, there are a few other exciting updates coming to the YLNI Farmers Market in 2021.

First, the market will be participating in Downtown Fort Wayne’s Mother’s Day celebration on May 8-9 with booths and activities at its May 8 market. It will also feature music and performers on a weekly basis throughout the summer.

In July, it’s launching a new kids program called the Power of Produce (POP), where kids ages 2-10 can visit a designated POP tent and receive a token worth $2 to spend at any of the market’s produce vendors.

“It’s just a fun way for kids to learn how to buy their own produce,” Wagner says. “Hopefully, it will excite them about trying new foods if they’ve picked them out themselves.”

To keep everyone safe during the pandemic, the YLNI Market is following state and local guidelines by not requiring, but encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing.

Learn more by following the YLNI Market on Facebook and Instagram (@ylnifarmersmarket), or by visiting their website.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.