Ashlee Clark Thompson

Louisville’s Burgers Get Fancy

July 31, 2013

Was I at the wrong restaurant? Surely, the oozing mound of ground meat coated in cheese and spilling onto a pile of shoestring French fries wasn’t from the Read Story

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502 Restaurant Week Begins

February 22, 2013

My attempts to save a little extra money for a splurge are usually half-hearted. Just check my savings account. But there’s an envelope on my kitchen Read Story

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Timeline: Former Employees’ Complaints Preceded Lynn’s Paradise Cafe Closing

January 12, 2013

Lynn’s Paradise Café, a Louisville restaurant staple with national recognition, has closed after 22 years.

No official reason has been given for the abrupt closure, but it follows several days of media attention and backlash over new labor policies at the restaurant. The most contentious of those policies, according to several reports, is a requirement for servers to keep $100 in cash on them during each shift to ensure that secondary staff members such as bussers and bartenders receive their share of tips.

Here are the events that preceded the closing:

Jan. 3: A former Lynn’s Paradise Café waitress writes on the WLKY Facebook wall that she was fired for violating a new policy at the restaurant. Leila DiFazio said the policy requires all food servers “to carry $100 cash for each shift to use to tip out support staff (bussers and food runners).”

From DiFazio’s post:

First of all, the new policy is absolutely unrealistic. Anyone who can afford to have one hundred dollars cash on them at any given time probably doesn’t need to work as a server. …

There were memos placed around the restaurant for two weeks before (the new policy) took place and yes, we were allowed to talk to management about it, but no one would because of fear of losing their job. I am walking proof of losing my job because I questioned the new policy and could not adhere to it. Please, please, PLEASE join me in making this right and/or exposing the madness within “Paradise”.

Jan. 4: The dining website Eater Louisville picks up the story and writes about DiFazio’s Facebook post. Lynn Winter, the owner of the café, confirms the policy change to the website later that day. She tells Eater Louisville that the restaurant enacted the rule to ensure that the wait staff have “enough cash on hand to be able to tip the secondarily tipped people (buses, bartenders, foodrunners and expos) because I didn’t want them to say ‘I have no cash, I can’t tip you today…. What I’ve been hearing from them is that they were very very worried that they were going to get stiffed by the waitstaff because they wouldn’t have any cash at the end of the day because they got so many credit card tips.”

  Jan. 9: Eater Louisville publishes a story that questions the legality of Lynn’s policy.

From the website:

As an anonymous Eater commenter pointed out, however, this policy appears to violate two sections of KRS 337.065: ·(1) No employer shall require an employee to remit to the employer any gratuity, or any portion thereof, except for the purpose of withholding amounts required by federal or state law. ·(3)No employer shall require an employee to participate in a tip pool whereby the employee is required to remit to the pool any gratuity, or any portion thereof, for distribution among employees of the employer.

Jan. 10: Insider Louisville disagrees with the Eater Louisville commenter that the practices at Lynn’s violate state law. Steve Coomes writes:

Problem is, the post points only to sections 1 and 3 of the law, not to section 4, which lays out the terms under which such tip sharing programs can be operated as voluntary arrangements between restaurants and their employees.

I am not familiar with the exact specifics of how Winters established her “bank” program, or with DiFazio’s firing, for that matter. But the fact is EVERYONE in this business plays by section 4. It’s simply the way it’s done: Servers get tipped, and they are expected to be honest in how they tip their assistants and bartenders. It’s a long-established and happy relationship based on the trickledown effect.

Jan. 11: Five alleged former Lynn’s employees write negative accounts of their time at the restaurant under the heading, “Far from Paradise: the Story Behind Lynn’s Café,” on the website for Service Workers for Justice. Statements include:

  • “My time at LPC was the most Kafkaesque experience under a Machiavellian reign of terror.”
  • “I feel like the hard work I put in for the company for almost a year has not been accounted for and I feel like I have been presented with a great injustice.”
  • “It took me months to become financially stable again and I’m still trying to deal emotionally and psychologically with everything I experienced there.”

According to the website, the group is composed of current and former Lynn’s employees who demand a reversal of the “$100 bank” policy and the rehiring of employees who were fired for speaking out against the policy.

Eater Louisville reports that the Service Workers for Justice website is backed by Kentucky Jobs with Justice, a coalition intended to “promote, protect and improve the quality of life of all workers by empowering individuals and organizations to engage in collective action for economic and social justice.”

WAVE 3 also begins to cover the ongoing dispute at the restaurant. Lynn’s chief operating officer Patty Schnatter tells the station that the restaurant would review the policy and poll current employees about how they wanted to proceed. Schattner can’t comment on specific employees, but gives a general statement about the restaurant:

“For 22 years Lynn’s Paradise Cafe has been committed to working with our employees to create a positive working environment through the challenges of an ever-changing economy. We are disappointed to learn that a few former employees and third-party agitators have some disagreements with us at this time. The issues raised arise from personnel matters that we cannot and will not discuss publicly. We are reviewing all of the issues raised, we are listening to the concerns and we will respond at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.”

Jan. 11: Lynn’s serves what will be the restaurant’s last meal.

Jan. 12: WAVE 3 reports that Lynn’s has closed, and Winter releases the following statement:

“Thank you to all of our loyal customers and faithful employees for making it possible to a run a 22-year business. It’s been a great run and we’ve had a ton of fun. The time has come to move on to new creative ventures.”

The restaurant also posts the following message on its Facebook page:

We are touched to hear from so many of our loyal customers this morning. We’ll post an additional statement this afternoon. Thank you again for your continued support!

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Food Trucks Go Beyond Curbside Service

December 26, 2012

One food truck couldn’t contain the plans Matt Davis had for Lil Cheezers Gourmet Grilled Cheesemobile.

Davis took to the Louisville streets in a Velveeta-yellow truck in 2011, selling creative takes on the classic grilled cheese sandwich to office workers, club kids and curious passers-by. In less then 18 months, Davis has established a brick-and-mortar restaurant, too.

“The idea was not to put all the eggs in the Lil Cheezers (truck) basket,” Davis said.
Davis is among a budding crop of food truck owners who have expanded their businesses beyond selling out of the side their vehicles. Morels Vegan Food Truck was one of the first food trucks to appear in Louisville in 2011, but mobile operations have ended – its owners now focus on selling retail vegan items under the name Morels the Vegan Butcher. Grind, a food truck that specializes in gourmet hamburgers, has begun to sell take-home veggie patties off the truck and in partnership with Grasshoppers CSA. A stationary location is in Grind’s future plans, and other food trucks could also explore the idea.

“Now that Matt Davis at Lil Cheezers is pulling it off, more trucks will probably look into it,” said Jesse Huot, who owns and operates Grind with his wife, Liz.

Davis didn’t want to limit Lil Cheezers to four wheels and pavement – he explored options such as franchising or opening a common kitchen in which the growing number of food truck operators in the city could do their prep work. Then a prime Highlands location became available earlier this year when Jamie’s 14K Cupcakes closed its storefront at 938 Baxter Avenue. Davis has since opened and operated a Lil Cheezers five-table restaurant in that space in addition to operating the original food truck.

“We decided to transition because the right property opened at the right time,” he said.

Davis also plans to debut a second truck in the first week of January 2013 pending health inspections and permitting.

“When all these things are firing on all cylinders, the business model looks delicious,” Davis said.

Davis said he sees the Lil Cheezers food trucks as “satellite branches” of the restaurant. With a lower overhead and increased mobility, the trucks provide an opportunity to test new concepts and change course – or location – quickly if something doesn’t work.

“Food trucks are the new restaurants,” he said.

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Ways to Think Local for Thanksgiving

November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving is a week away, and I’m already tired.

There are groceries to buy, pies to make, outfits to iron, advertisements to review.  I could’ve sworn that the Thanksgivings of my childhood only lasted a day. Now, it seems like this holiday has transformed into a marathon of planning, cooking, eating and shopping.

Fortunately, there are resources throughout Louisville to get me and the other procrastinators and overachievers through this demanding time.

Where to buy your Thanksgiving groceries/food

The Root Cellar, a retail store with a focus on local, farm-raised produce, meat and dairy products, has just opened a second location in Germantown. Not only can you buy fresh vegetables for homemade side dishes, but you can also order a pasture-raised turkey. Call the Germantown location at (502) 618-0663 or the Old Louisville location at (502) 742-9670 to order a bird.

Not into cooking? You can get a catered, Thanksgiving meal with a majority of local ingredients from Farm to Fork Catering. This caterer offers a variety of soups, sides and desserts, but you’re on your own for the turkey. But remember, you only have until Friday, Nov. 16 at noon to place your order. 

I can’t make a pie crust to save my life. Fortunately, Sweet Surrender Dessert Café is taking orders for Thanksgiving desserts. They offer selections that include everything from classics like apple pie to a fancier fare like white chocolate mousse torte. You can call them at (502) 899-2008.

No matter how much you plan, things could go wrong on the big day. The turkey might not thaw in time. The sweet potatoes might burn. The apple pie could explode. Just in case you need a Plan B, two restaurants in The Brown Hotel will welcome you on Thanksgiving. The English Grill  will host a Thanksgiving dinner that includes an appetizer buffet, a seasonal entrée and a selection of desserts for $58 per person. J. Graham’s Café has a Thanksgiving buffet for $34 per person.

Where to get your Black Friday deals

A millionaire with a soft spot for food writers couldn’t get me into a mall or near a big-box store on Black Friday. But Frankfort Avenue is hosting a Black Friday Trolley Hop that seems more my speed. From 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., the trolleys will allow shoppers to visit local businesses and still get some deals. Shoppers can pick up a coupon sheet with discounts at participating businesses at the following locations:

  • A Reader’s Corner Bookstore
  • Crescent Hill Trading Co.
  • D&W Silks
  • Lexie’s Trading Post
  • Margaret’s Consignment
  • SisterDragonfly
  • South Bayly Boutique
  • The Comfy Cow

Restaurants and other eateries along the trolley hop route will offer specials if you’re more interested in a hot food that a day of shopping in the cold.

Boombozz Pizza on Frankfort Avenue will have $5 lunch specials and two for $20 dinner specials. The Wine Rack will offer a wine and cheese sampling 5-8 p.m. and The Comfy Cow on Frankfort Avenue will have double points for rewards card members.

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Restaurants Face Uphill Battle for Cardinal Towne Diners

October 17, 2012

Cardinal Towne seemed like a good location for Papalinos NY Pizzeria to open a second location.

Bolstered by the success of the restaurant’s Baxter Avenue store, co-owner Shelly Hernandez says she and her husband, co-owner Allan Rosenberg, rented a space in Cardinal Towne, a mixed-use development on Cardinal Boulevard. Sandwiched between the University of Louisville Belknap campus and Old Louisville, the location had the potential to draw patrons from two distinct communities. They opened the Cardinal Towne Papalinos store in August 2011.

Just over a year later, the ovens have gone cold. Hernandez and Rosenberg closed the Cardinal Towne restaurant and are now operating solely out of the original Papalinos location on Baxter Avenue.

“We did not want to do it, not in the least bit,” says Hernandez.

Commuter Campus Life

Papalinos’ short life on Cardinal Boulevard reveals a tricky situation for restaurateurs who have taken up residence in Cardinal Towne. Though a wealth of students and an entire neighborhood surround the row of eateries, Papalinos and others have to compete with mandatory meal plans, slow foot traffic and a community that hasn’t fully embraced Cardinal Towne’s retailers.

“No one thinks of driving down to that part of town unless there’s a game or something with the university,” says Nathan Quillo, owner/operator of Quills Coffee, another Cardinal Towne tenant.

Quillo says that it seemed like a no-brainer to open a coffee shop in Cardinal Towne. But “good locations might not be great locations,” he says. Quillo, who has attended U of L, says the school is still a commuter campus—students drive in for class and go home without spending much time on campus. 

A representative of Cardinal Towne could not be reached for comment. 

On-Campus Competition

Cardinal Towne restaurants also compete with on-campus options. Most students are required to have meal plans that can only be used for dining services the school provides exclusively through Sodexho, says Larry Owsley, vice president for business affairs at U of L. The meal plans are also mandatory for commuter students who meet certain criteria.

U of L adopted the meal plan policy in 2008 as part of a 10-year contract with Sodexho, who provides the dining services. There are three tiers of meal plans that cost $175, $930 or $1,460 per semester. Prices are based on the residence hall in which a student lives and the number of credit hours a student takes at the Belknap campus, according to U of L’s website.

A meal plan makes students turn to on-campus dining first, but the 8,476 students on the $175 meal plan option “would have money to spend at the retail outlets at Cardinal Towne,” Owsley says.

But Hernandez said the meal plans did affect her business. “Students don’t have a lot of extra income,” Hernandez says. “It has an impact.”

Students can use Cardinal Cash, an account separate from meal plans, at on- and off-campus retailers, including Cardinal Towne retailers The Comfy Cow, Qdoba, Jimmy Johns and Home Run Burgers. But Hernandez says Cardinal Cash at Papalinos would only bring in about $15 a day. 

Back to ‘Home Base’

Eventually, revenue from the Baxter Avenue Papalinos was supporting the Cardinal Towne location, which could have put both locations in jeopardy, Hernandez says. The owners decided to close the Papalinos Cardinal Towne to preserve the success of its original store.

Hernandez says it is nice to be back in their “home base” and refocused on making the restaurant “the best that it can be.” The Cardinal Towne location still makes Hernandez sad, she says, but there were valuable lessons from the experience.

“We learned how to be a little bit more leery and a little bit more business savvy,” she says.

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