Chefs’ day off becomes 7-course Latin feast and fundraiser

Does it look like the chefs smiling above are happy?

Giddy was a word I heard used several times—no kidding— last night during the first Louisville Latin All-Stars dinner, when the foursome and a cadre of cooks teamed up to make a seven-course, paired dinner for 50 guests at Seviche (photos below). The meal was a fundraiser for Partners in Health, a global health organization committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people. But as you can see, it was a fun-raiser for a bunch of guys who rarely get out of their own restaurants, much less cook with their competitors.

At left is Fernando Martinez, who along with Yaniel Martinez to his left, makes up two of three partners in OLE Restaurant Group, which owns several Louisville restaurants, among them Artesano Vino Tapas y Mas, and Guaca Mole. To his left is Bruce Ucan, executive chef and partner at Mayan Café, and to his left, Anthony Lamas, chef-owner at Seviche. As Lamas said in my podcast interview with him (click here to listen), the meal was a collaborative effort that began many weeks ago. In addition to raising funds at a pace of $225 per person, it allowed them to showcase the best of their combined Latin heritage and mad cooking skills.

Needless to say, it was a fantastic dinner, one I was lucky enough to be invited to cover. The mastication marathon began with passed appetizers followed by seven paired courses: six with Chilean and Argentinian wines and one with 23-year-old Panama Pacific Rum. The three-hour chow-down was perfectly paced and portioned, a feat not always easy with intricate platings and an assemblage of strong wills in a single, hot room.

The event will recur, they say, though no date is set. Lamas said the chefs already are discussing inviting culinary peers from other cities to join them, so keep watch for your chance to do this next time it rolls around.

Feast your eyes on their creations below.

All-Star Anthony Lamas, Apron’s Dine Around with Dawn Bianconcini

The city’s top restaurant and bar podcast dives deeper into some of the most compelling stories and issues in the ‘Ville. We start with confirmation that the BBC in St. Matthews has will close Feb. 5 and become Sullivan’s, a restaurant and sports bar. And Steve’s sources say that’s not the last major upheaval in the popular nightspot area — but you’ll have to wait a week to hear about it. Rick went to GLI’s Annual Meeting and listened to the latest from John Schnatter, including a new TV spot and some previews of his upcoming autobiography “Papa.” We also discuss visits to the Manhattan Project, the Mayan Cafe and the Seafood Lady.

Steve’s interview with Seviche’s Anthony Lamas includes details of what sounds like an amazing evening — when he will join Bruce Ucan of the Mayan Cafe and Fernando Martinez of the Ole Restaurant Group for a Latin All-Stars chef collaboration. Plus, Lamas is bringing back the popular Dinner and a Movie concept in time for Valentine’s Day. Local restaurant workers know all about APRON Inc., the non-profit that raises money to help workers who suffer short-term disabilities or find themselves out of work through no fault of their own, such as when their workplace catches fire. Rick talked with Dawn Bianconcini, an APRON officer, at SuperChefs in the Highlands. She said 15 employees there received help after a 2016 fire. One of the group’s biggest fund-raisers, the APRON Dine-Around, is coming up Feb. 8, and more than 40 local restaurants are donating a part of their proceeds to the cause.

Everyone loves to hear our weekly favorite eats and drinks — and we don’t disappoint this time. Steve had the opportunity to try one of the Mayan Cafe’s special 10th anniversary dishes. Rick checked out why there’s so much buzz at the Seafood Lady, sampling some Cajun crab and shrimp. A big tequila fan, Steve explained his ArteNOM full flight, while Rick sampled a Dirty Bourbon, featuring Maker’s Mark and Ballotin Original Chocolate Whiskey.

There’s plenty more appetizing news at the EatDrinkTalk.net web site, so come back and check it daily. And thanks for downloading the EatDrinkTalk podcast.

EDT39AnthonyLamas

Anthony Lamas

EDT39DawnB

Dawn Bianconcini

No Surprise here! BBC St. Matthews closing Feb. 5, to be replaced by Sullivan’s Tap House

So this puts a week’s worth of rumors to bed: Bluegrass Brewing Co. will close its legacy location in St. Matthews at the end of the day Sunday, Feb. 5. The space at 3929 Shelbyville Rd. that it’s occupied for 23 years will be turned into a Sullivan’s Tap House, a craft brew and restaurant concept to be created by the longtime owners of Sully’s on Fourth Street Live.

For more than a week, rumors poured in from between BBC employees, random IT people, beer distributors—even chefs across the river—saying the long run of BBC, the city’s oldest brewpub, would come to an end. Some said, its death would usher in another Sully’s, others said an Irish bar, and BBC owner Pat Hagan said to me in a text, “Yesterday I heard it was going to be a country bar. There are all kinds of rumors going round but right now I have the lease and am still there. If things change I will let you know.”

For the record, he didn’t.

We learned of the change after statements detailing the new ownership were released to The Courier-Journal and Business First.

According to Business First, John Sullivan, a partner in Sully’s, and Matt Taylor, who also worked there in the past, are now partners in Sullivan’s Tap House. They will be joined by Breno Giacomini, a former U of L football player who now plays for the New York Jets. Giacomini has also invested in Brownie’s The Shed.

Both reports said to expect lots of TVs (already have them at the site), a larger food menu (that’s hopefully improved, because historically, food hasn’t been well treated at BBC St. Matts) and over 20 craft beers (which won’t be brewed on site).

I have mixed feelings about the end of BBC there. It’s always been a great place to hang out and watch games. But other than the wings, the food quality was generally poor for much of its run. Beer was solidly reliable under management of its original brewer, David Pierce, and it continued after his departure for New Albanian Brewing Co., when Jerry Gnagy and Sam Cruz took over. But when they left to form Against the Grain five years ago, quality dropped markedly until Pierce returned a couple of years ago.

Its U of L and UK gameday beer and wings discounts were great, and the service was always pleasant, so I’d drop by for those, but that was it. The concept was due for a refresh.

Will I go to Sullivan’s? Doubtful as I expect more of the same sports bar fare that one can get so many places in this town, and, frankly, which I can recreate at home. No question that watching games in a crowded bar with good beer and grub is a fantastic experience, but it’s no big draw if it’s just more of the same. I have no doubt, however, that it will suit the tastes of many, and that’s a good thing. My likes aren’t shared by everyone.

I’d be more inclined to go to Hagan’s Goss Ave. Pub in Schnitzelburg, where the post-Germantown Craft House food menu is fantastic and the beverage program looks to be solid, and it’s about the same distance from my house as what will soon be Sullivan’s. (As I wrote in my recent story on Goss Ave. Pub, if the crew can execute the plan, it’ll be a really good place.)

It’s not as though I’m without a sentimental side. I wonder what will happen to Pierce, Louisville’s most experienced brewer of the modern craft brewing era in Louisville. He’s a good man and a fine talent, and I’ll miss his products if he leaves the industry.

I also spent a lot of time and a good portion of my discretionary cash at BBC. So it’s a bit sad to see a memory-making place go away. There were many great events we attended, not to mention the launch of some pretty tasty beers. But 23 years operating in this incredibly competitive restaurant and bar scene is an accomplishment. So maybe Hagan is looking for less responsibility.

Regardless, to Hagan and Pierce, we tip our hats and raise our glasses one last time. We hope to see you at the Main St. location and when you cut the ribbon on the returned BBC on Fourth St. At the risk of sounding too trite, thanks for a lot of good memories.

Schnatter Talks Up “Papa” and Pizza at GLI Meeting

A lot of Louisvillians will be anxious to read John Schnatter’s autobiography, which will likely include 30 years worth of stories about building the Papa John’s brand. He’s made millionaires of many, and enemies of some. Given his insistence on telling it his way, I suspect the book will skip much of the conflict Schnatter has experienced with employees, competitors and investors.

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 11.39.02 AMBut it’s a fascinating business story, telling the now-legendary tale of starting a pizza business in a broom closet at a bar, selling pizza for $5. That business became a multinational chain with 5,000 stores and nearly $4 billion in annual sales. And it took Schnatter from a guy with a college degree who couldn’t get a job to an international celebrity and billionaire, someone who business people and politicians call for advice.

“Papa” comes out Jan. 31, at a cost of $28.95 for the hardcover, $9.99 as an E-book.

The book will detail Schnatter’s philosophy for success, which he might sum up with this quote.

“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not innovating,” Schnatter said. “I have 120,000 employees, I want them all to think like entrepreneurs, to think and innovate. We have a culture where it is okay to make a mistake, learn from it, and go on.”

Schnatter keeps a relatively low local profile for a billionaire living in Louisville, granting few interviews. He keynoted Greater Louisville Inc.’s annual meeting Wednesday, but instead of standing at a podium and making a speech, he opted to have a talk-show format presentation in which Wicked Sheets entrepreneur Alli Truttman joined him to ask questions, accompanied by video clips.

Schnatter covered a wide range of issues and ideas, and gave the audience of about 1,000 a sneak peak of his upcoming Super Bowl commercial (not available for media perusal), in which he unveils a logo that includes more Papa John’s employees and stresses the idea of “pizza family.”

What was fun, though, was seeing a handful of early Papa John’s commercials, including one I didn’t remember that recalled the company’s early battles to establish itself in a pizza delivery world dominated by Domino’s. It showed streets crammed with Domino’s delivery cars slowly being overtaken by those from Papa John’s. And there one about the effort to tie in movies (the kind you used to get from video stores) with your pizza.

Schnatter explained that he had to take his book to a second publisher. He said the first refused to publish his words without extensive editing, wanting to take out his “voice.” I don’t like editors either, but if I’m betting, I’ll predict that some will react to Schnatter’s version of his success story by saying that he should have gotten an editor.

If you’ve lived here, like me, throughout those 30 years of growth, you’ve heard all sorts of stories about Schnatter. And while not all of them are positive, at age 55 he seems to have come to a happy place. His company will likely hit $4 billion in annual sales this year, and the idea to star in his own commercials has proven to be effective.

Schnatter spoke Wednesday at length about the importance of giving back, stressing his involvement in area universities and the Louisville Zoo. He also talks the talk that generates employee loyalty — telling the audience that he gives all his employees bonuses based on the company’s performance.

While he didn’t mention it in his speech, he’s a new member of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, and made news in his first meeting by questioning real estate purchases by the university.

In 1998, I wrote a lengthy piece for Business First focused on a lawsuit brought against Papa John’s from a franchisee group. The lawsuit’s depositions revealed information that was unflattering to Schnatter, but Schnatter wouldn’t talk to me prior to publication on the advice of his attorneys.

Once the story was published, Schnatter requested an off-the-record meeting with me. As I recall the lunch, he was focused primarily on convincing me that the story shouldn’t have been published. Yes, he was intense, but when it was over he eventually invited me to a golf outing (the paper wouldn’t allow that).

I’d like to think that Schnatter’s approach is a bit softer now. I’d love to get him to do a podcast interview and see if he agrees. What’s not changed, from my view, is his focus on business, his energy, and knowing what it takes to stay competitive. His decision to change his company when it seems all is going so well is indicative of that.

“We are getting ready to change everything,” he said. “We’re going to change the commercials. We’re going to change the positioning.”

Restaurant Roundup: APRON, oysters, RBK whole hog, Wilburn fundraiser

Eat burgers, drink bourbon, help chef Wilburn: Last month, Varanese sous chef Tom Wilburn suffered an aneurism and has not been able to work since. Without income, his medical bills are mounting and he needs help. So his boss, owner John Varanese, has put together a fundraiser to help a guy who’s served on that restaurant’s staff since it opened nearly 10 years ago.

Varanese sous chef Tom Wilburn with former Varanese bartender, Felicia Corbett in 2014.

Varanese sous chef Tom Wilburn with former Varanese bartender, Felicia Corbett, in 2014.

On Sunday, Jan. 29 and Monday, Jan. 30, Varanese will donate $20 from every Chef John’s signature V Burger ($25) sold to a fund for Wilburn. Even Maker’s Mark is getting involved, selling a special $10 bourbon cocktail in a keepsake glass, and donating all proceeds from those sales to Wilbur’s fund. It’s expected there’ll be a crowd on hand, so reservations are recommended. Call 502-899-9904 or email letsdine@varanese.com to get a seat.

Going whole hog every month at Red Barn Kitchen: Before Reed Johnson became executive chef at Red Barn Kitchen, he was a hardcore, whole-hog barbecuer. In December, he smoked a whole hog at RBK, and the meal was so popular, he’s now doing it monthly. That’s special because 1. whole hog cooking is hard to do well, 2. a blessing to eat, and 3. it gives diners a chance to taste the animal cooked whole rather than fabricated into parts. Trust me, it tastes better for many reasons, especially when you mix all the pieces-parts on one plate. (My advice, ask for jowl meat and middlin’s.) This year’s first event is tonight, Jan. 26, and it’ll recur every subsequent last Thursday of the month. For a mere $15, you get all you can eat, slow-cooked for 15+ hours piggy goodness. Show up and dig in!

Diet now, save room for APRON Dine Around: Eat Drink Talk loves supporting APRON, the Louisville non-profit group that raises funds to support restaurant employees—like Tom Wilburn—who find themselves burdened by overwhelming medical issues. Annually, APRON conducts a dine around in which some 40 local independent restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds to APRON. This year, it’s Wednesday, Feb. 8, so here’s another reason for sticking to your diet resolution through Feb. 7, cutting loose the day of the dine around, then hopping back on the wagon Feb. 9. Click here for the list of participating restaurants, and tune in to the podcast next Tuesday when Rick Redding interviews an APRON representative for details.

Bring it on, people! Gospel Bird chef-owner Eric Morris has guts. Or maybe he’s crazy. He’s just started a once-a-month dinner dubbed The People vs. Eric Morris, where he does all the cooking by himself. According to his Facebook page, the grub won’t be from Gospel Bird’s menu, rather the lineup will be different with each dinner, sold a la carte and affordably. The most recent one was Jan. 23, so look for the next one to be Feb. 20. He’s daring you, people, so go put him in the weeds!

$1 oysters are a hit at Levee: Must have been four people show up in my Facebook feed recently going ga-ga over the $1 oyster bargain every Wednesday at Levee at the River House. It must be a bumper crop this year for those delicious bivalves because some other spots around town, such as Rye on Market, have offered similarly priced bargains.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail surpasses 1 million visitors: Whodathunk it? People coming from everywhere to see bourbon made and aged and drink it on those hallowed distillery grounds—in record numbers in 2016. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, 888,733 fans visited the state’s nine large distilleries last year, while another 177,228 visited our 11 craft distilleries. The grand total was 1,065,961, which represents 300 percent growth in 10 years. I’ll drink to that!

Old Louisville Operator Gets the Wet Vote Out for his Pizza Joint

When Dan Borsch decided to focus his career on operating restaurants in Old Louisville, he may have thought he’d no longer need the skills he had learned in politics, assisting with campaigns and even running himself for Metro Council.

But then he ended up as co-owner of a deli-by-day, pizza-joint-by-night operation that faced one giant problem. The Toonerville Deli and Old Louisville Pizza were in a dry precinct, surrounded by businesses that were selling alcohol. And he couldn’t see long-term success selling pizza without being able to offer a beer to go with it.

“Pizza was a product we had for a few months in the summer,” he said in an interview for the Rusty Satellite Show podcast. “We realized that without alcohol sales that it wasn’t going to be a successful concept. We put it on hold, brought it back a month ago in anticipation of being able to have alcohol sales following the wet-dry vote. So we officially won the vote and are looking froward to getting our license.”

Dan Borsch at the Old Louisville Tavern

Dan Borsch at the Old Louisville Tavern

Last year, Borsch researched the requirements to turn the dry precinct wet. Namely, he petitioned for a wet-dry vote, knowing that he would have to use good old-fashioned political skills to win a majority vote.

What resulted was a micro-campaign, covering about 14 blocks, and a plan to reach the 1,500 voters who live in the Old Louisville precinct.

The Jan. 10 vote was a landslide for the wet side, winning 90 of 133 votes cast. Borsch said he campaigned door-to-door, sent out flyers and talked up the election, a smaller-scale operation compared with political campaigns he’d been involved in during his earlier career.

“We had a plan, worked it, targeted voters, reached out to them, went door to door, everything you would think of in a typical campaign, just on a smaller scale,” he said. “We were thrilled with the outcome.”

Borsch said it will take 90 days to get all the necessary approvals to start serving beer at Old Louisville Pizza, which operates as the Toonerville Deli during the day. He said he expects to serve his first beer there “one minute after 90 days.” That puts it in early April.

“Every day, you looked across the street and there were operators who had licenses for a liquor store and another operation that could sell,” he said. “We were on the corner of a dry precinct. 15 years ago it was voted dry because of a bad operator. That person is no longer involved in the neighborhood.

“Times have changed, the neighborhood is improved. It’s been changed dramatically over the last few years. I’d like to think they gave us a shot to be a great neighborhood restaurant.”

Borsch and partner Scott Lukemire have been leaders in that change.

Borsch bought the Burger Boy at 1450 S. Brook St. in 2008, where college kids, 2nd and 3rd shift workers, and people partying keep the place busy around the clock.

“The great thing is it’s truly a mix of types of people, demographics, walks of life, it’s a little bit of everybody. That’s what makes it interesting and unique to the city. When I bought it, I thought it was a real energetic area on the cusp of becoming a great neighborhood,” Borsch said.

The Ville(y) Steak Sandwich at Old Louisville Tavern

The Ville(y) Steak Sandwich at Old Louisville Tavern

In addition to the Toonerville Deli, he and Lukemire are partners in the Old Louisville Tavern at 4th and Gaulbert, which suffered a devastating fire in 2014, just a year after they took over. It reopened last spring after extensive renovations, and Borsch said it’s been worth it.

“We had been open a year and felt really good about what we were doing,” he said of the space, which has been operating as a bar for 70 years. “We got a lot of support from the neighborhood and felt comfortable investing money back into the building. We felt if we did a first-class job the neighborhood would support us.

“We made the investment and are really happy about the way it turned out.”

For Borsch, there was no master plan to transition from a career in politics to operating restaurants in the historic neighborhood.

“I got into real estate and bought the Burger Boy,” he said. “The intent was to turn it around and move on. Then I fell in love with the neighborhood, and kept finding other opportunities in Old Louisville. I began to understand the market and see the changes with the growth of U of L. One project led to another.”

And he may not be finished, saying he’s got a dozen different ideas on the horizon.

“Old Louisville has gone though hard times,” he said. “People have sacrificed a lot to make it a great neighborhood. The joke is always that it’s five years away. Maybe now it’s only four and a half.”

Famed Derby TV producer bringing Top Round Roast Beef to Louisville in April

Billy Rapaport admits the only thing he knows about the restaurant business is where to get great food. But the freelance TV and film producer, known best for his work providing every image for NBC’s Kentucky Derby Breeder’s Cup coverage, says his first visit to Top Round Roast Beef in Los Angeles got him thinking about adding a second vocation. The food was so good, so beyond his expectations, that he and wife, Elizabeth Rapaport, will become the company’s first franchisee when they bring the brand to Louisville this spring.

One of 7 roast beef sandwiches served here. | Photo courtesy of Top Round Roast Beef

One of 7 roast beef sandwiches served here. | Photo courtesy of Top Round Roast Beef

“As we ate these sandwiches for the first time, Elizabeth and I were looking at each other thinking, ‘Have you ever eaten anything like this? This is insane!’” said Rapaport. The couple has a home in nearby Santa Monica, Calif., and in Louisville’s Crescent Hill neighborhood. “The next thing you know, every time we’re in Los Angeles and we’re going there to get food, to get sandwiches to take with us on a plane wherever we were going.”

Not long after, he approached Top Round owners about becoming a franchisee. Founded by restaurateurs Anthony Carron, Noah Ellis, Steven Fretz, and James Beard Award winner Jamie Tiampo, the chef-driven fast-food concept’s lone unit is a humble one: a walk-up window with tables outside and a small counter for service inside. It won’t change much when the Rapaports open their first one in an idle Long John Silver’s location at 4214 Shelbyville Road.

Louisville's first Top Round Roast Beef will go here on Shelbyville Road in St. Matthews. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Louisville’s first Top Round Roast Beef will go here on Shelbyville Road in St. Matthews. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The menu centers on seven beef sandwiches made from top round slow-roasted 12 hours in CVap ovens made here at Winston Industries. Add in three hot dogs, two chicken sandwiches, a handful of salads and sides, shakes and frozen custard, and you get the picture: simple and duplicable, but incredibly high quality, Rapaport insists.

“People say to us, ‘So, your competition will be Arby’s, right?’ And I’m saying that’s not our competition at all,” he says. “Once you’ve tasted what we do, it’s so different from anything anybody in Louisville has ever tasted, you’ll be blown away.”

The drive-thru on the first Louisville location will replace the outdoor walk-up window in the first location. Louisville’s four distinct seasons, Rapaport says, make year-round patio seating impossible.

He plans to conduct a soft opening in late April, but it’ll likely happen in early May. Given his all-consuming Derby-time duties behind the lens, the restaurant opening could also present a problem during that time period. Regardless, he and his wife will soon begin training in California, and after that, she’ll run the operations.

Top Round Dirty Fries. | Photo courtesy of Top Round Roast Beef

Top Round Dirty Fries. | Photo courtesy of Top Round Roast Beef

“My feeling is we’ll take a long month going slowly to make sure we have everything running perfectly before we have any sort of grand opening,” he says. “After that, we cut the ribbon, kiss the babies and shake the hands: open!”

An unashamed carnivore, Rapaport calls Top Round a stop created for those proud to be at the top of the food chain.

“Yeah, much to my doctor’s dismay, this is the kind of food I like,” he says.

If you’re old enough to remember McDonald’s fries in its early days, you’ll be happy to know all four of Top Round’s French fry options are fried in beef fat.

“They’re so good, let me tell you, so good,” he says. The Dirty Fries sound particularly palate-friendly, yet cardio-averse: covered in beef gravy, Provel cheese, caramelized onions and Round sauce. “Like nothing you’ve ever had, I promise.”

Darryl Goodner’s Ice Cream Dream; Jerry Gnagy Goes Against the Grain; Rumor Central

The EDT crew is talking up Louisville’s restaurants and bars with a smile this week — thanks to Louisville Cream’s Darryl Goodner, who sent along a pint of Red Queen for our recording session. Once the treat was done, we got down to business with a bunch of interesting stories. We start in Butchertown, where rumors were flying about the old Hall’s Cafeteria site. It’s also semi-official that the BBC in St. Matthews, one of the longest-running brewpubs in the region, will shut down and reopen soon, possibly as a country and western bar. Also, an overhaul is underway at the Eiderdown in Germantown, and we discuss the fast turnaround that created the Goss Ave. Pub down the street. And we discover some activity in Old Louisville, where a wet-dry vote will result in one more pizza option, and how the opening of the Seafood Lady’s new location has created a stir, and a long line out the door. Finally, it’s Restaurant Week at Norton Commons, with plenty of delicious dining options available at a special price.

Our first guest, in addition to supplying the unexpected studio treat, tells Rick about his entrepreneurial journey from making ice cream for fun in high school to the planned opening of a scoop shop in NuLu in April. Darryl Goodner’s passion for the product is evident at his Old Louisville production kitchen. You can find Louisville Cream at several local retailers, including Rainbow Blossom and Copper & Kings. Steve sits down with brewer Jerry Gnagy and learns all about the Against the Grain production facility in Portland, and how that company is growing quickly, with distribution throughout much of the U.S.

Steve’s favorite eat this week is the Not Dog at Goss Avenue Pub, a flavorful cooked carrot served in the style of a hot dog. At Old Louisville Tavern, Rick loved the Ville’y Cheese Steak, featuring house-made beer cheese. At a big Bourbon Society event, Steve got reacquainted with Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey. Rick is expanding his beer palate, and chose the Country Boy Halfway Home, brewed in Lexington, as his choice for the week.

There’s always plenty of news at the EatDrinkTalk.net web site, and this great weekly podcast on Louisville’s thriving dining and drinking scene.

Jerry Gnagy

Jerry Gnagy

Darryl Goodner. Photo by Bill Brymer

Darryl Goodner. Photo by Bill Brymer

Eiderdown closing for 2 weeks, reformatting for Germantown-Schnitzelburg scene

Eiderdown, the Euro-Southern-influenced restaurant at 983 Goss Ave. will be closed for the next two weeks while undergoing a transformation to a more casual restaurant befitting the evolving Germantown-Schnitzelburg scene. When it reopens on Feb. 7, it will be an affordable, German-food and German beer-centric restaurant geared toward attracting more customers from the neighborhood.

In an open letter to that demographic posted on Facebook Saturday, owners Heather Burks and James Gunnoe apologized for “prices and approachability (that) drifted outside the realm of what is comfortable for the typical Germantown-Schnitzelburger. … (W)e feel as if we have forsaken many of you, our closest friends and neighbors.”

If you ever needed a look into how hard it can be for restaurant operators to pivot and move to meet guests’ needs, here’s a good glimpse of that. Below is the full post from Gunnoe and Burks, with whom I hope to speak later this week.

Dear Germantown-Schnitzelburg,

Saw you at Kroger the other day; that new jacket looks nice on you. Real nice. Hey, you got a minute?

When we opened Eiderdown in October 2010, we had a vision: to offer European-inspired Southern comfort food, a bunch of beers and a good selection of wines all at reasonable prices in a comfortable, rustic setting. Our hours included lunch back then and we stayed open until 1am on the weekends, with the expectation that we would be an outlet for hungry folks who had been hanging out at the Nachbar (or wherever else). It didn’t take long to realize that — for the food we were making — 1 am was too late, then a few month later, we realized 11 am was too early. We got rid of late night and lunchtime hours that didn’t make sense and pressed on.

As the years and menus passed, we kinda strayed from our original objective. In 2014 and ‘15, we got busy with a zoning change that allowed us to tear down a warehouse and build a parking lot, as well as offer outdoor seating and liquor drinks. While the food remained delicious, our prices and approachability drifted outside the realm of what is comfortable for the typical Germantown-Schnitzelburger. While we have welcomed (and hope to continue to welcome) people from all over the city, region and beyond, we feel as if we have forsaken many of you, our closest friends and neighbors.

For this, we apologize.

Walking along Texas, Mulberry and Hoertz last Saturday, I realized how crazy it is, in such a densely populated section of Louisville, how few neighborhood folks Eiderdown regularly connects with because we have priced ourselves right off their radars. Right off YOUR radars. So like with the hours that didn’t make sense when we first opened, we feel it’s time to do some more adjusting. Here’s what we have in mind:

1) We will embrace German food. We don’t want to narrow it down so much that we call Eiderdown a German Restaurant, but we will have schnitzel, house sausages, house sauerkraut, potato soup, actual pretzels, spätzle as a side, etc.

2) Prices will drop, yet quality will remain high. As a result, we will be forgoing some local meats (the Nachburger and Sunday Sitdown will remain locally gotten). More sandwiches, fewer entrees, no $32 anything.

3) We will offer more vegetarian options.

4) Beer. We plan to eventually have the most comprehensive selection of German taps in Kentucky. We’ll offer liters, half liters and half pints of many familiar German beers and offer several out-of-the-way styles from smaller German breweries. We’ll round it out with locals, an IPA or two, a couple Belgian beers and Miller Lite.

We are really excited about these changes and feel like they will help Eiderdown nestle back into what we’d always intended it to be. It will take some time for the cabbage to ferment into kraut, so after dinner tonight, we will close for two weeks. We will open back up on Tuesday February 7 as a more embraceable restaurant that we hope you will be proud to have as part of the neighborhood. Either way though, we’ll still say Hey when we see you at the grocery store.

Thanks for your time, G-Town!

Sincerely,

Heather and James

Doggone Good News in Middletown

Let’s say you want to start a chain of restaurants focused on quality food, having guests watch sports on TV, and getting families to come in with their kids. What you need then is a nice story, like one focused on a cute family pet, plus a mascot and some quirky twists on traditional sports pub food.

Of course, it helps to have a management team with a three-decade track record, the ability to test the concept in your medium-sized hometown, and to choose a location surrounded by other restaurants and things to do.

With all that going for it, the new Double Dogs in Middletown is opening Monday at 11 a.m., and will be open until midnight Sunday through Wednesday, and until 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Dog Bowl Nachos

Dog Bowl Nachos

I was invited to a “test-the-concept/food-on-local-bloggers event” Thursday, and came away feeling the atmosphere and food are all first-rate. Standouts on the menu include Bo’s Dog Bowl Nachos, served in, yes, a dog bowl, and Buffalo Chicken Mac N Cheese. Also on the vast menu are a Chicken Pot Pie and Double Dogs Flat Iron Steak, plus a selection of burgers, wings, pizza and sandwiches. At $13.49, the steak is the most expensive item on the menu.

An impressive video wall housed most of the 40 big-screens, and there are 45 tables inside, plus a large bar that, in the spring, will feature service on both sides, in and out on a patio.

I spoke to John Morrison, vice president and director of operations, who said that at its three Tennessee locations and Double Dogs’ hometown of Bowling Green, families bring their dogs and sit outside, where the place provides water bowls and dog treats.

John Morrison with Bo and Chancey

John Morrison with Bo and Chancey

“The concept is for families who want to have fun. We know that Louisville’s a town that likes to get out,” said Morrison, a U of L grad now living in Bowling Green.

Dan Davis started what would become a restaurant enterprise in Bowling Green in 1981. Back then, I was a WKU student, and that first Rafferty’s was only the second actual restaurant out Scottsville Road, an area that is now crammed with dining options. (Imagine the Shelbyville Road spot where the new Double Dogs is located to form a mental picture.) Davis’ and Morrison’s parent company now operates 18 Rafferty’s, a Montana Grille and is a franchisee in the Corner Bakery chain. The Middletown Double Dogs is the fifth outlet for the chain, and Morrison said plans are underway to open one in Lexington this fall.

Morrison has hired 85 staff positions, and expects to maintain a crew of 70, with six managers, pulled mostly from other restaurants in the company.

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Dogs can hang out here

While Morrison wouldn’t comment on the cost of the stand-alone spot, it appears that little expense was spared on being prepared for battle with the likes of Buffalo Wild Wings less than a mile away, plus three area Beef O’Brady’s locations and a bunch of sports bars.

Perhaps the difference is dogs. Two life-sized mascots, Bo and Chancey, were in attendance Thursday, and Monday’s opening includes a ceremony with the Kentucky Humane Society. The restaurant will name one special K-9 service dog with the Louisville Metro Police Department an honorary Double Dogs Chow House Pup. Officer John Kirk and his canine, Bosco, will be on hand at 3 p.m. for a special presentation. Bosco specializes in detection work, tracking people and evidence to crimes as well as aiding with drug and substance abuse cases.

The Hebrew National Chili Dog

The Hebrew National Chili Dog

“We are excited to expand into a new city in Kentucky and honor the local police force that keep this community safe,” said Davis, whose real dogs are named Bo and Chancey and inspired the theme. “Human or canine, we appreciate their service and hope they will drop by for a burger, a beer and a dog treat whenever they have a chance.”

Morrison said he’s seen as many as 14 canines on the patio at Tennessee stores, but added that dogs aren’t allowed inside the restaurant.

“We really do love dogs,” he said.