To find out everything you need to know about Bobby Benjamin’s passions, ask him to explain the colorful tattoos that run up and down his right arm. The enthusiastic entrepreneur will point to mushrooms and brussels sprouts and the places he first cooked them.
Benjamin is the force behind the one-year-old Butchertown Grocery, and its cocktails and small plates lounge upstairs, Lola.
And while food images dominate his arm, he points out spots that remind him of his wife and young daughter, and mentions he’s got a son on the way.
In an interview for the Rusty Satellite Show podcast, Benjamin talked about his roots in Bell Buckle, Tenn., his travels as a chef, and his vision for his business in Louisville.
“When I was a kid I got this job, working at the Bell Buckle Cafe out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “I graduated from a high school with 47 students. I worked with Jeannette and Heidi Heineke, mother and daughter, in a mom and pop restaurant. That’s where I started falling in love with food, at 13 or 14. By the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to be a chef.”
Bell Buckle wasn’t your average country diner. Benjamin learned to eat and cook soul food there, and thanks to an ostrich farm nearby, to make ostrich burgers.
He set out on a culinary career, which eventually landed him in Louisville at Sullivan University, where he earned a culinary arts degree. From there, it was on to the West Coast, and eventually back to Tennessee, working with legendary chef, Sean Brock, in Nashville. That led, seven years ago, to a prestigious position as chef de cuisine at The Oakroom here.
Benjamin’s partners in the Butchertown Grocery are attorney Jon Salomon and My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan. Benjamin said the business did $3.5 million its first year.
While the space for Lola had been used on occasion for special events and was regularly open for pre- and post-dinner cocktails, the partners wanted it to have an identity of its own. Beverage manger Nic Christiansen created a Lola-specific cocktail menu, while Benjamin crafted a menu of sandwiches and appetizers he described as “elevated bar food.”
On a recent Thursday, Lola was packed as local favorite Danny Flanigan played guitar and sang on stage. He’s one of many local and regional performers scheduled to perform there.
With two establishments under his control, I asked Benjamin if there were other ideas for concepts rolling around in his head. He didn’t share specifics, but said he’s open to explore other concepts. He added that he’s grateful for his success.
“For us to be so busy, it excites me, it means a lot of people are happy to come here and see the same servers,” Benjamin said. “It’s almost like our family here is building relationships with other families, and I think it’s getting stronger now.”
Listen to the entire interview with Bobby Benjamin on the Rusty Satellite Show here:
And check out the previous EatDrinkTalk story on Lola’s at this link.
For more, GoToLola.com.