Our Summer summary of changes in the local restaurant scene — with openings, closings, changes and more.
Everyone knows that starting a restaurant is a risky business. One supposed statistic that is frequently bandied about is that 90% of new restaurants fail within a year. Though this “fact” does not stand up to much scrutiny (Forbes magazine a couple of years ago reported on a 10-year longitudinal study that reckoned new restaurant failures to be no more likely than most new business failures), starting a new restaurant does require considerable capital investment in equipment, in hiring and training of staff, in promotion and in achieving consistency of product. Restaurants are a volatile business challenge, a fact that makes the Louisville area’s burgeoning restaurant scene worthy of notice. Once again, and for the 26th issue of the last 30, we can report that openings of new restaurants outnumber the closings by a total, in this issue, of 32 to 20.
The willingness of a restaurant owner who has experienced the headaches and overcome the roadblocks of starting and running a successful business to try to do so again by opening other restaurants, we think is worth special notice. The fact that five of the new restaurants noted here are being opened by experienced restaurant operators is a special detail that speaks well of those restaurant owners reading into the future promise of the Louisville dining scene. We devote this issue to profiling three such operators of multi-location — and even multi-concept — restaurants: Fernando Martinez, Chad and Lauren Coulter and Jared Matthews, who have all taken chances, tried out new ideas, built on prior successes and have injected new energy into the restaurant community and delighted Louisville diners.
Fernando Martinez and his partners in Olé Restaurant Group have, for the past decade or so, been salting the city with one interesting restaurant concept after another: Mojito, Mussel & Burger Bar, Mercato Italiano—all of which Martinez has developed and then sold. He has stayed with his successful El Taco Luchador concept; he plans in June to open his fourth Luchador location in the recently renovated Colonial Gardens at 5205 New Cut Rd. and his fifth at 9204 Taylorsville Rd. in Jeffersontown this fall.
And that’s not all. This past spring Martinez closed his Artesano Vino Tapas y Mas restaurant in Westport Village and almost immediately opened Steak & Bourbon in the same space at 1321 Herr Ln. In this issue’s profile of Martinez, he explains why he thinks his new concept will work well in the Westport Village complex.
Another multi-restaurant group, the ambitious couple Chad and Lauren Coulter, who have LouVino restaurants in Cincinnati and Fishers Indiana (an Indianapolis suburb) as well as two in Louisville, have also launched something new for them. The Coulters’ newest idea is Biscuit Belly, a breakfast and lunch spot that just opened at 900 E. Main St. The Coulters discuss their career switch from pharmacists to restaurateurs in this issue.
Also profiled in this summer issue is Jared Matthews, who is building a multi-concept restaurant empire in St. Matthews. Currently the co-owner and operator of Diamond Pub & Billiards, Lou Lou Food + Drink, Equus & Jack’s Bourbon Restaurant | Lounge, Matthews and partners plan to open another new concept this summer, Diamond Street Grub & Hops, 3920 Shelbyville Rd. in the one-time Mellow Mushroom Pizza location. There, diners will find street food dishes from around the world as well as a wide choice of draft beers.
The fourth established restaurant owner is Dan Borsh, whom we listed last issue as opening Burger Girl Diner at Frankfort Avenue and Cannons Lane. In this issue we report that he will take over Hillcrest Tavern, 3212 Frankfort Ave., a neighborhood institution that has had many identities in recent years. Borsh will return it to an updated neighborhood bar concept by the end of June.
Christopher Seckman has run North End Café, 1722 Frankfort Ave., since 2003 and expanded into a second location in the Highlands in 2011. But Seckman and his partners decided to close the Highlands restaurant (and its accompanying pizza purveyor, Slice) earlier this year. Now Seckman, partnering with long-time Chef Adrian Jimarez Neri and Oscar Ortiz, has renovated and reopened the space at 2116 Bardstown Rd. as La Suerte, an upscale Latin restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nearby, at 2216 Dundee Rd., the Silly Axe Café is open, responding to the needs of gluten-intolerant diners with a gluten-free menu that will not aggravate the conditions of sufferers of celiac disease. (Celiac / Silly Axe. Get it?)
Another new Highlands dining spot is Al Hamra Halal Buffet at 1250 Bardstown Rd. in Mid City Mall. Halal cooking takes into account food restrictions and rules derived from the Quran. Owner Ibrahim Quasim offers 25 cold dishes, mezze and salads, and 25 hot dishes reflecting the food traditions of Muslim societies around the world, so look for pakoras and samosas as well as for falafel and kibbe.
Downtown, at 217 E. Main St., The Celtic Pig food truck has found a brick-and-mortar home in the Ice House complex. There diners can find Scotch eggs, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and two interpretations, hillbilly and traditional, of the famed (and frequently defamed) Scottish sausage, haggis.
Three other food and drink businesses that have opened more or less downtown include Mattie’s Kitchen, providing soul food at 1018 S. Fifteenth St. (in St. Stephen’s Family Life Center). On the eastern edge of downtown is Palatucci’s Italian American Ristorante, which takes over the former Gary’s on Spring space at 204 S. Spring St. Falls City Taproom is now at 901 E. Liberty St., which will be the permanent brewing and serving space of Falls City Brewery, and Bandido Taqueria will open its second location next door to the Taproom, supplying food options to them by the end of summer.
Falls City isn’t the only brewery announcing a collaboration; Goodwood Brewing Co. has opened their first satellite, Goodwood Brewhouse and Live Room, on the second and third floor of Cox’s Hot Chicken in Jeffersonville. And on this side of the river, Mile Wide Beer Co. has announced a Neopolitan pizza focused collaboration with J’town’s Mac’s Dough House, who will operate in a small second space within the brewery at 636 Barret Ave.
There has been a café at the Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Ave., for a long time. After reconsidering the needs of racetrack and museum visitors, the café space has been reconceived and redesigned into Derby Museum Express, a quick service, grab-and-go breakfast and lunch spot. At 5905 Terry Rd., you can choose from six flavors of coating on the chicken wings at The Chicken Box. At 9909 Taylorsville Rd., Crystal’s Southern Food & Spirits serves traditional regional breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Four new ethnic restaurants have opened: Pho Phi, a Vietnamese restaurant, has taken over the Home Run Burgers space at 4600 Shelbyville Rd.; Aji Sushi and Asian Cuisine is at 5610 Outer Loop; Louisville Café India has opened at 12412 Shelbyville Rd. in Middletown; and La Bonita Tienda Mexicana is open at 1999 Brownsboro Rd.
Two other new businesses of interest are The Ntaba Coffee Haus at 2407 Brownsboro Rd., which sells and serves only coffees and teas grown in Africa. And downriver a bit, just over the Hardin County line as you cross the Salt River on Dixie Highway is West Point Pizza, serving slices and pies at 407 South St., West Point.
In addition to new restaurant brands, four established businesses have opened one or more additional locations in the last three months. A mission-driven business, Scarlet’s Bakery strives to employ women recovering from abuse and exploitation by teaching them baking, customer service and self-empowerment skills. In addition to the Shelby Park original site, two new locations, 200 S. 5th St. (in the First Trust Center) and 106 Fairfax Ave., produce cookies, muffins, cakes, salads and simple sandwiches.
In the East End, Mi Tierra Mexicana Restaurant has opened a new branch at 2610 Chamberlain Ln. and relocated its Glenview Pointe Shopping Center store into the roomier space vacated by Zeggz Amazing Eggs at 2400 Lime Kiln Ln. Also in the East End is a new Which Wich? at 13124 W. Hwy. 42 in Prospect.
Across the river, the area’s tenth McAlister’s Deli is open at 3508 E. 10 St., in the Jeffersonville Ridge development. And Jeff’s Bakery will be opening a second location at 4430 Charlestown Rd. in New Albany sometime this summer.
Mexa Tacos plans to open its second store this summer at 305 W. Market St. downtown, and Liège and Dairy has a second ice cream store at 12003 Shelbyville Rd. in Middletown.
Of the 13 businesses that have totally left the scene, five had been around for several years. The remainders are relatively new and couldn’t seem to gain a solid market foothold.
Of the former sort, the most senior business is Bistro 301 at 301 W. Market St. First known as Deke’s Marketplace Grill, the two large rooms at the corner of Market and Third Streets, with a convivial bar on the right and a quieter artsy dining room to the left, flourished in the early 2000s and seemed to hold steady through an ownership change and during the long, traffic-disrupting renovations of the Convention Center just across the street. But the realities of trying to do business as the city changed around it proved too disruptive; Bistro 301 closed suddenly this spring.
On the other end of Market Street on the in-town edge of NuLu, Wild Rita’s, 445 E. Market St., has also abruptly closed. When it first opened, its sophisticated, glitzy vibe, upscale approach to Mexican fair and large selection of tequila and tequila-based cocktails drew in crowds. But as happens in the bar and restaurant biz, that panache faded.
Speaking of panache, the California pizza chain Mellow Mushroom entered the crowded pizza market with exuberance, quickly establishing three locations scattered around the county. But in the last year, one by one, Mellow Mushroom contracted its local presence, closing first its Middletown store, then its bespoke location in the Highlands. With the closing of the St. Matthews outlet at 3920 Shelbyville Rd., Mellow Mushroom’s presence in Louisville is now kaput.
Bank Street Brewhouse, 415 Bank St., was among the earliest food and drink businesses to anchor the New Albany dining and entertainment revival. But in recent years the business underwent ownership changes, and the brewery operation continued with a variety of food-providing partners. Now both the brewhouse and its most recent food partner, Taco Steve, have ceased operation. The Brewhouse was originally an offshoot of New Albanian Brewing Co., a business that is still operating as New Albanian Brewery Pizzeria & Public House at 3312 Grant Line Rd. The original “research and development” brewery is located there, too.
Another once popular establishment closed this past spring. The Bistro at 3701 Frankfort Ave. was, for a while, the cognoscenti’s favorite secret lunch spot. Tucked away in the lower level of The Olmsted, an event space on the Masonic Home campus, the bistro provided simple, well-prepared breakfast and lunch fair for practically nothing.
Like many observers of the local food scene, I found the battling frozen confection purveyors on the foot-and-auto-heavy-traffic corner of Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road to be an interesting phenomenon to watch. Alas, Lula’s Frozen Yogurt at 1501 Bardstown Rd., lost the battle of location competition. It has closed, and only Comfy Cow remains on the opposite corner.
The California import, Top Round Roast Beef, which couldn’t find a firm foothold in the crowded fast food and fast casual restaurant field east of St. Matthews, has closed at 4214 Shelbyville Rd.
Fishery Station at 5610 Outer Loop has closed, as has Jimbo’s BBQ at 801 Kenwood Dr. Two Latin restaurants have also closed; Floridita, which concocted Cuban and Caribbean fare at 9909 Taylorsville Rd. and El Barrio Tequila and Whiskey Bar at 129 West Main St.
Six multi-location businesses have reduced their local footprint by one location or more. Once boasting three locations, Yang Kee Noodle, following the closing of their Highlands location earlier this year, recently closed their Oxmoor Mall store, 7900 Shelbyville Rd., after a 15-year run, reducing their presence to only their Middletown store. With the closing of the store at 2400 Lime Kiln Ln., Zeggz Amazing Eggs is now down to just the Middletown location, 11615 Shelbyville Rd. Cox’s Hot Chicken is left with one outlet after the closing of the New Albany location at 110 E. Main St.
Shiraz Mediterranean Grill is left with five local stores after closing the one downtown at 237 S. Fifth St. Jason’s Deli closed the outlet at 1975 South Hurstbourne Pkwy., leaving two area locations. And Steak ‘n Shake has been going through some corporate restructuring, resulting in the temporary closure of two corporate-owned locations at 3232 Bardstown Rd. and 4913 Dixie Hwy., presumably until franchisees willing to take them over are found.
And finally, the long-standing and much beloved breakfast and lunch spot The Café at 712 Brent St. is undergoing considerable change. The restaurant group behind Buckhead Mountain Grill has bought the business, but long-time owners Sal and Cindy Rubino will continue to run it until the Paristown Pointe development is complete. The Rubinos will then retire after a long run with several restaurants over the years. The Café will move into what is currently the Louisville Stoneware building and add dinner service in response to the imminent opening of the Old Forester Paristown Hall entertainment venue. F&D