Recent additions to the South Elkhorn Village round out Lexington’s newest dining destination
South Elkhorn Village, named for the picturesque creek that flows in close proximity to the commercial property, has seen its share of changes over the years. Once plagued by vacant storefronts due to the struggling economy, the shopping center has gained some major momentum under a new ownership group, which has an innovative philosophy for ensuring the center’s success.
Located on Old Harrodsburg Road just south of Man O’ War Boulevard, South Elkhorn Village has been anchored by the popular Southern comfort-style restaurant Ramsey’s Diner for many years.
But with the addition of an eclectic group of four other restaurant establishments, it is the mission of TB Managed Assets 3 LLC, a subsidiary of Traditional Bank which bought the 50,000 square foot center around a year ago, to establish South Elkhorn Village as a new “dining destination.”
“One of the challenges and goals of repositioning a shopping center is to try and get the correct tenant mix for the trade area the property serves,” said Paul Ray Smith, who serves as executive vice president of NAI Isaac, the leasing agent and property manager for TB Managed Assets 3.
“We don’t have a traditional grocery store-type anchor, but we feel like with the combination of restaurants serving as the anchor tenant, and complementing that with our service tenants and selected retail users, we’re on the right track,” he added.
The other restaurants currently located in South Elkhorn Village are the Coffee Pub, which has been open for over five years; SEC Sports Pub, which opened in late October; El Charro Authentic Mexican Cuisine, which opened in July; and Brick Oven Pizzeria, which is slated to open later this year.
“We think the types of restaurants all fit together well and not only will they be successful, but it will allow us to lease the majority of the center and have the other tenants be more successful based on (the restaurant) traffic,” Smith said.
While the Coffee Pub has fulfilled a south Lexington niche as being one of the only non-chain restaurants in the area that specializes in breakfast, the other restaurants will provide a variety of other options to local patrons. Brick Oven Pizza, SEC Sports Pub and El Charro are also all licensed to serve alcoholic beverages after a restriction was recently lifted as a result of negotiations between the new commercial property manager and Ramsey’s.
“(The alcohol ban being lifted) has been the major change that has caused new (restaurant) people to come into the property,” Smith explained. “That’s been critical.”
Smith hopes South Elkhorn’s family of restaurants will also attract new retail and service tenants. The center currently has around 30 percent of its space available. Its other existing businesses include Q-First in Quilting, Big League Haircuts, Cindy’s Nails, Dentistry By Dr. Erin Langfels, Lexington Investment Company, the Actors Guild of Lexington, and Gymboree Pay & Music Center.
Everybody agrees – some more than others – that the increased traffic and customers to the area will be a boon to the commercial district. Here’s a look at some new, as well as some familiar, faces in the South Elkhorn Village, and their thoughts and expectations on the evolving center.
Ramsey’s, which has four locations throughout Lexington, opened its South Elkhorn Village restaurant in 2000. Owned by Rob Ramsey, it is renowned by locals for its casual atmosphere, made-from-scratch menu items, and Southern hospitality-style service.
Since opening over 12 years ago, the restaurant has endured a number of expected and unexpected hardships – from the Harrodsburg Road widening project and a couple of floods to the initial development of South Elkhorn Village – and has emerged as a dining stalwart in that part of town.
“We have built a successful business by serving a quality product with exceptionally hospitable people,” Ramsey said.
While Ramsey is hoping for the best with the addition of the new South Elkhorn Village restaurants and the commercial property owner’s “dining destination” mentality, as a savvy small business owner and veteran restauranteur he is also aware that the influx of new restaurants could pose a number of challenges to his business.
“We welcome our new neighbors and wish all of us success, but our job to excel will be made more difficult than when we were the only ones on the block,” he said.
The second oldest restaurant in South Elkhorn Village, Coffee Pub, is owned by Erin Rader, who bought the restaurant from its previous owner three years ago.
Located in a quaint, 150-year-old stone house behind Ramsey’s, the restaurant offers a variety of southern and southwest-style breakfast offerings as well as specialty sandwiches for lunch. “We’re known for our chicken salad and tomato basil soup, and we use high quality ingredients,” Rader said. “It’s a great place to bring people from out of town instead of going to a chain. ... People are really wowed when they see our menu because it’s extensive for being such a small place.”
A Kentucky native, Rader has been involved in the food business for many years as a hostess and server, most recently working for Josie’s owner Bobby Murray. In the three years since Rader has taken over ownership of Coffee Pub, she says the restaurant’s sales have tripled.
“We have a lot of regulars – there are some people that eat here every day,” Rader said. “I think it’s because we have such a great staff and I don’t have a big turnover. We talk to (our regulars), know them by name and know what they order.”
Rader believes the new restaurants in South Elkhorn Village will help her business. “I think it’s wonderful for the shopping center and for us as restaurants, because it creates traffic,” she said. “It’s not a threat to me. Now people will go to all the places, so it’s a good thing.”
El Charro Authentic Mexican Cuisine
A Mexican restaurant that prides itself on using fresh, authentic ingredients, El Charro has already received many rave reviews since it opened its doors three months ago.
“We’re starting to see repeat customers, so that’s great,” said Flor Gonzalez, whose mother, Martha Oregon, owns the restaurant.
El Charro serves traditional Mexican-style dishes, many of which are based on the owner’s own recipes.
In addition to serving quality food, the restaurant also puts an emphasis on providing excellent service.
“We try to make our customers feel really welcome from their first step into the restaurant,” Gonzalez said. “We want to make sure all of their needs are met and accommodate every special request. ... The customer is No. 1.”
Gonzalez and her mother liked the location of South Elkhorn Village, as well as the variety of restaurants in the center. Based on the success of the “dining destination” philosophy, they may eventually expand the restaurant and add a patio.
SEC Sports Pub
Owned by David Romero, SEC Sports Pub is gaining popularity with its beer selection, live music, full dinner menu and golf simulator machines.
“This side of town doesn’t have much in the way of a sports venue with live music, so I thought this was a way to open up a hopefully successful business,” said Romero, who formerly owned The Grapevine in Tates Creek Centre.
“I look at (owning The Grapevine) as a time where I cut my teeth and learned the business,” Romero said.
A golf enthusiast, Romero said the golf simulators added a “competitive and fun” feature to his bar and restaurant, which also boasts 32 televisions and four 120-inch projectors.
SEC Sports Pub’s menu offers a selection of Cajun-style items in addition to steaks, sandwiches and other hearty entrees. They also offer a diverse assortment of 12 different beers on draft.
Romero’s future hope for SEC Sports is that it will become a popular Southside neighborhood bar.
“I want this to be a safe, fun and quality environment,” he said. “What I share with my staff is that we’re going to provide quality service, a quality product, in a quality environment for our patrons to enjoy. I hope all those things come together.”
Romero’s thoughts on South Elkhorn becoming a restaurant destination are in line with the center’s management’s vision.
“The more restaurants that are here, the more activity it creates,” he said. “You’re creating more business for everybody by being a place where everybody wants to be. I think it’s great ... now you can just drive into the South Elkhorn shopping center and decide what you want for dinner.”
Brick Oven Pizzeria
Slated to open later this year, Brick Oven Pizzeria is the only pizzeria of its kind in Lexington that will offer delivery services.
Owner Tim Kolenda said he chose to locate his business at South Elkhorn because the “number of households, income levels and age group” of the area fit well with his vision for Brick Oven Pizzeria.
“It’s the old fashioned way of making pizza,” said Kolenda of the traditional wood-fired style, which was originally made famous by several well-known Brooklyn, N.Y., pizzerias.
Kolenda is a Lexington resident who formerly worked in the restaurant franchise business for 18 years. “When you’re working in a profession, it’s always a dream to have your own thing,” Kolenda said, adding that he would consider opening another Brick Oven location in Lexington based on the South Elkhorn restaurant’s success.
Brick Oven Pizzeria will offer various seasonal specialty pizzas in addition to pasta and grinders. The restaurant will also have several varieties of beer available.
Like the other restaurant owners, Kolenda sees South Elkhorn gaining a variety of eating establishments as a positive move.
“It’s going to benefit everybody here,” he said. “It gives people a destination where they have several different places to choose from – almost like a food court.”