Louisville dining icon Nancy Shepherd, co-founder of Café Metro and Uptown Café, died June 22, according to an obituary published by Newcomer Funeral Home. The cause of death wasn’t given, but Shepherd had battled mobility issues resulting from a stroke suffered several years ago. She was a resident at Nazareth Home.
Along with husband David Shepherd, she opened Café Metro in 1980 to rave reviews. The restaurant served modern American cuisine with panache and class in what then was a super-contemporary setting. Along with Bristol Bar & Grille, which opened in 1979, Café Metro was a pioneering effort in what became the Bardstown Road restaurant scene.
Shepherd taught humanities and English at Seneca High School, but it was in restaurants where she found a second calling. A larger than life personality, Shepherd was funny, friendly and legendarily irreverent. Dean Corbett, owner of Equus, Jack’s Lounge and Corbett’s, and similarly outspoken, once said to me regarding Shepherd, “You think I’m off-color, hang out with Nancy for a while. … Trust me, she’s an interesting fit at the Nazareth Home. She cracks people up.”
The Shepherds also cracked customers’ wallets at Café Metro, a pricey restaurant in a day when meals there and at fine dining competitors like Casa Grisanti, Hasenour’s and Sixth Avenue were special occasion outings. In its heyday, it was worthy of the price.
Following the death of her husband in a 1983 automobile accident, Shepherd opened Uptown Café in 1986, directly across from Café Metro on Duker Ave. at Bardstown Road. It, too, was an instant success and has operated for 30 years. Her daughter, Kelley Ledford, manages the restaurant.
Increasing competition, sagging sales and failing health led Shepherd to close Café Metro in 2009. When word circulated that its impressive 29-year-run was ending, Shepherd remarked wryly to me, “The place is half empty until I tell people I’m going to close it down. … I guess they’re all coming by to see the body. It’s a visitation!”
Corbett called her edgy humor, “lovable,” adding that Shepherd “said things everybody wanted to say, but wouldn’t.”
Her gimlet-eyed wit gave pause to some who didn’t know her, but those who did saw it as evidence of her mental agility and toughness. Single-minded and passionate about her businesses, Shepherd was a woman restaurateur in a market then led mostly by men. Ironically, the two finest women competitors of her day operated spots just down the street from her: Susan Seiller at Jack Fry’s and Kathy Cary at Lilly’s Bistro. (Stephanie Meeks bought Jack Fry’s from Seiller in 2007.)
Corbett said that while Shepherd was fiercely competitive, she patronized multiple Louisville restaurants regularly.
“Nancy made it a point to go to everybody’s places. She was a regular at Jack Fry’s, my places and many more,” he said. “She’d go out and put her money where her mouth is when it came to supporting the community.”
Shepherd’s visitation will be held Tuesday, July 5, at Nazareth Home (2000 Newburg Road) from 3-4:30 p.m., followed by a memorial service. A reception will follow at the Uptown Café at 1624 Bardstown Road.