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    Eat & Swig

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    By Jenny Kiefer
    Photos by Chris Witzke

    “It’s almost like training wheels for food concepts,” says Chris Lavenson, president of Chef Space. The shared commercial kitchen, in the Russell neighborhood in west Louisville, launched a new program earlier this year called Jay’s 120 (named after the building’s former occupant, Jay’s Cafeteria). Lavenson describes Jay’s 120 as a “kitchen incubator” for entrepreneurs wanting to get their feet wet in the restaurant industry. “We’re teaching people how to focus on their operations and get streamlined and work out all the kinks before they go out into the community and have full leases,” Lavenson says. 

    For a monthly fee starting at $200, Chef Space members have access to the restaurant-grade kitchen, which takes up more than 10,000 square feet with rows of refrigerators, stainless-steel prep tables and large ovens and fryers. “What we kind of do is eliminate (a lot of) expenses for food entrepreneurs,” Lavenson says. Elixir Kombucha cultures and bottles tea here. LuCretia’s Kitchen packages small-batch barbeque sauce. There are currently 12 members. “This group is called Bite Meals,” Lavenson says as we pass a stack of pre-made chicken dinners. “They sent out 8,000 this week. They’ve doubled production in the last month.”

    The commercial kitchen that Daddy Rich's and other Chef Space members share.

    Daddy Rich’s, open Tuesday through Sunday, is the first restaurant to do the Jay’s 120 program, which gives new business owners 120 days to test out their model as a full-scale restaurant, learning in just a few months what Lavenson calls the “holy trinity”: top-line sales, cost of goods and labor costs. “That is enough time to figure out if you’ve got a good concept or not,” Lavenson says. “So the idea is: If you’re going to fail, you fail quickly.” The storefront has an assembly-line-style counter and, during Daddy Rich’s kick off in January, a line that extended beyond the door and onto the porch facing Muhammad Ali Boulevard. 

    The idea for Daddy Rich’s originated in Rod Martin’s home kitchen, where he cooked chicken wings with his signature “lemon pepper buffalo” flavor for family and friends. “Buffalo mixed with a tang,” says Martin, who grew up in Shawnee. “Everybody had started to become accustomed to the flavor we were giving out. After so many people tasted them and passed them around — just sharing the love — we were like, ‘We need to start selling these wings.’” Martin says he and co-owner Brian Allen didn’t know anything about running a restaurant before meeting the folks at Chef Space. In anticipation of Daddy Rich’s Jan. 17 grand opening, Martin and Allen worked with managers at Chef Space to learn the ins and outs of what goes on behind the scenes at a restaurant. (Daddy Rich’s had been operating as a catering service in the back of Chef Space since August.) At their prep table on opening day, Martin and Allen coated each wing in a sauce before shaking on a dry seasoning, which dusted their aprons. Martin nodded and waved to familiar faces in line. “It’s trial and error,” he said. “You learn.”

    Brian Allen (left) and Rod Martin run Daddy Rich's.

    Daddy Rich’s 120 days will expire just after Derby, and the next emerging concept will replace them (undetermined when this issue went to press). Allen and Martin’s advice for their successor: Be on top of prep and distractions. “If you have Plan A, have Plan B,” Martin says.

    Next to the Jay’s 120 counter, a large map of west Louisville, focused on Russell, is freckled with colored pushpins. One sits in the exact spot of Chef’s Space. “This is what I think is our secret sauce,” says Lavenson, turning around to face the map. Customers put their money where their mouth wants — each customer who spends $10 or more can pin a spot on the map where they’d like to see a permanent Daddy Rich’s location. There are currently about 200 pins, mostly on Broadway and Market Street. “At the end of the program,” Lavenson says, “we will see a cluster, a weighted average of where people want to see it.”

    Martin and Allen hope to expand their menu once they have a permanent location. But right now, they’re sticking to wings. “This is what we specialize in,” Martin says, looking back at their current menu. “You feed that until it grows.”

    The Dining area for Jay's 120 concepts.

    This originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    This article originally misstated the size of Chef Space's kitchen as 3,000 square feet. It is actually more than 10,000 square feet.

    Cover photo: Lemon pepper buffalo wings from test concept Daddy Rich's.

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