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

Rash of Closings Don’t Necessarily Mean a Restaurant Downturn is Here

We’ve been hearing a lot about a restaurant industry downturn, even as restaurant openings continue to fill our calendars. During a short stretch in July, we reported here on more than a dozen new establishments.

But look closely and the signs (literally) indicate that the industry has overbuilt. The sign on the door at the Applebee’s on Hurstbourne Parkway, smack in the middle of a sea of chain restaurants (including the O’Charley’s next door) reads that the Applebee’s “was unable to achieve profitability at this location.” Brown paper has covered the windows there since Sept. 29.

The note, signed by Apple Gold Group’s Michael Oleander, suggested that diners visit three other Applebee’s locations owned by the group.

Marric's in Fern Creek now for sale

Marric’s in Fern Creek now for sale

Profitability, it seems, is becoming difficult no matter what the size of the operation. In Fern Creek, I noticed that a family restaurant, Marric’s, suddenly closed, with the business now up for sale.  The store’s web page includes a note from Mary, the owner, who wrote upon opening two years ago that the restaurant was a dream project. “We took our time in remodeling and preparing our vision, menus, employees, vendors, licensing, etc.  We wanted to start small, but our goal is to  be big.  Everyone can dream they say!”

If a closing can be positive, the spin put on Facebook by Eric David Gould is just that. Gould operated Smoketown USA for nearly a decade, calling himself “the redneck Jew” and entertaining regular customers who found their way to the unusual location on Logan. He wrote, “Eric has plans in 2017 that will local events that feature Smoketown USA so you will have plenty of opportunities to get your Smoketown fix!! And who knows what Eric will bring us next?”

All this news comes on the heels of the biggest restaurant story of the week — the decision by Falls City Hospitality Group to close the much-anticipated Doc Cantina’s in Waterfront Park after less than six months. It’s a prominent, high traffic location, and the failure to succeed there is a head-scratcher. But as Steve Coomes writes here, even having a tremendous track record doesn’t guarantee the high-level execution of concept necessary for restaurant success. Let’s hope FCHG gets back to the drawing board and comes up with something new and exciting for that spot.

All is not gloom and doom in the local restaurant scene. In fact, our friends at Food and Dining magazine found more than a dozen new spots that have opened since their fall issue was released.

 

Sal Rubino at The Cafe

Sal Rubino at The Cafe

And speaking of signs, the sign on Payne Street at the new Ciao (in the former Baxter Station space) indicates the business is hiring staff, a sure sign that an opening is on the horizon. The project was announced in June, and projected to open in July. Yes, we’ve seen plenty of activity there and can’t wait to see the renovations.

Given all this activity in the restaurant space, you’ll want to hear this week’s EatDrinkTalk podcast. My guest is Sal Rubino, a veteran of more than three decades in local dining, who is successfully operating The Cafe, just off Broadway, and celebrating the concept’s 20-year anniversary. It will be online Friday.