Doug Prather’s Plans for 301; 20 Years with Sal Rubino at The Cafe

With a number of restaurants closing this week, Steve and Rick had plenty to talk about, from the high-profile shutdown of Doc Cantina to the loss of a prominent chain store on Hurstbourne. Is it part of a national trend? We’re not sure, but we’re confident that the Applebee’s shuttering won’t be the last for national chains in the area. Steve has some insight into the decision by Sullivan University to let go of a 28-year veteran of its Baking and Pastry Arts program, a departure that could impact its students.  And we both got an advance peek at the new Total Wine & More retail location in the Paddock Shops, and came away impressed with the variety, pricing and customer-engagement approach of the 140-store chain of beverage stores.

Steve’s interview is with the new owner of Bistro 301, Doug Prather, who has deep restaurant management experience to bring some excitement to a downtown location that’s had its ups and downs under two previous owners.

In our popular Favorites segment, Steve raves about a cocktail at Mesh, while Rick’s choice of a Skinny Margarita at Drake’s was met with some good-natured laughter. At the newly reopened Oakroom, Steve enjoyed an upscale meal featuring charred octopus. Rick got a nice recommendation for lunch at The Cafe from Sal Rubino, his interview subject for the show.

Rubino is celebrating 20 years operating The Cafe with his wife Cindy, who he met at culinary school in Miami. The breakfast/lunch spot is thriving despite an off-the-beaten path location just off Broadway and Barrett. Sal tells some tales from his three decades of history in the local restaurant business.

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Doug Prather at Bistro 301

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Sal Rubino at The Cafe

Bistro 301 looks to be sold to owners of The Goat

Business First reported this afternoon that a deal is in the works to sell Bistro 301 (301 W. Market) to ITB Hospitality, which has applied for a liquor license at the restaurant.

A quick web search revealed ITB Hospitality’s address is listed at 700 Landis Ridge Dr. in eastern Jefferson County (off Shelbyville Road and across from Lake Forest). That’s the site of The Goat restaurant, which is part of a six-unit chain based in Columbus, Ohio.

I’ve never been to The Goat, but I’ve heard from a few friends who live in that area it’s a good place to take a family since it specializes in … what else? … pizzas, burgers, wraps, wings, etc.

In the Business First article, reporter David Mann did some modest editorializing about the sale of Bistro 301: “It’s a heck of a time to be buying a restaurant at the corner of Third and Market streets. This building is located right across Market Street from the Kentucky International Convention Center, which is going to close today and remain closed for the next two years for a major renovation project. And Third Street is expected to close for that work next year.”

He’s right. But as I say often, that’s why I write about restaurants and others operate them. They probably know something I (and Mann) don’t.

So why buy Bistro 301, which isn’t the hottest restaurant in town? Chances are ITB Hospitality doesn’t want that brand, just the building it calls home for now. Matt and Molly Mershon bought the restaurant 13 years ago from local lawyer John DeCamillis, who operated the spot as Deke’s Marketplace Grill for about a decade. It was average at best, and the Mershons’ changes were welcome and successful. Yet it’s hard to recall the last time it slipped onto my coverage radar. I even had to go to its website to see its menu and recall what they serve there. When I looked, I said to myself, “I’ll buy a drink for the first person who can successfully categorize its menu.” It cuts a crazy path through many cuisines.

So should you expect The Goat to be penned there? Possibly. Four of the six Goats are clustered in or near Columbus, so a small-scale duplication of that strategy in the River City could work. And once the convention center reopens, it would be logical to think visitors might like its approachable and generalized menu.