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Pasta Garage Italian Café opened on Delaware Avenue in 2015. In addition to operating as a restaurant, the location features a shared kitchen and small business incubator in the back. Photo by Bill Straus
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Pasta Garage Italian Café. Photo by Bill Straus
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Pasta Garage Italian Café owner Lesme Romero. Photo by Bill Straus
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Pasta Garage Italian Café. Photo by Bill Straus
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Bonnie Dowler opened the “boutique wholesale” flower and decor shop Stems in 2003 after purchasing the building from longstanding florist Berthold Grigsby, where she had worked since 1978. She said changes to Delaware Avenue in recent years have exponentially increased Stems’ walk-in traffic. Photo by Bill Straus
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Megan Hillenmeyer, direcor of busness development for Pomegranate. The wholesale clothing and textile company recently relocated its warehouse and showroom to Lagonda Avenue, right off Delaware. Photo by Bill Straus
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Pomegranate wholesale clothing and textile company. Photo by Bill Straus
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Cowgirl Attic has sold recycled, repurposed and reclaimed “urban artifacts” on Delaware Avenue since 2001. Photo by Bill Straus
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Cowgirl Attic. Photo by Bill Straus
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Cowgirl Attic. Photo by Bill Straus
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Barnhill Chimney owner Brion Barnhill said his business has picked up since moving to Delaware Avenue. Photo by Sarah Jane Sanders
Delaware Avenue, until recently a sleepy strip on Lexington’s near east side populated by small homes and industrial businesses, is growing out of its reputation as just a shortcut between Henry Clay Boulevard and Winchester Road.
With the help of some of the trailblazing businesses that staked claim to the area years ago, several newcomers are adding liveliness and variety, putting Delaware Avenue on a short list of fast-growing Lexington neighborhoods, alongside North Limestone, the Distillery District and the Warehouse Block along National Avenue.
One of the newest additions to the block is Pivot Brewing Co., and although it will be brewing beer, its primary focus is on artisanal hard cider.
Owner Kevin Compton had become disillusioned with the mass produced ciders most people are familiar with, which he says are almost always back-sweetened and pumped with flavored syrups.
“It’s hard to buy good ciders,” Compton said, “but really good cider would compete with a really good Belgian beer any day.”
As the popularity of craft beer soars, craft cider remains largely unexplored.
Compton comes from a beer background (he’s been home brewing since the late 1990s), but the opportunities in the market, along with his general appreciation for cider and the challenges it poses, led to Pivot’s emphasis on cider.
Though Pivot doesn’t serve food directly, the brewery hosts food trucks, and also collaborates some with Pasta Garage Italian Café, which is located just down the street on Delaware. Pivot customers can place Pasta Garage to-go orders then walk over to pick them up, and Pasta Garage and Lexington Pasta owner Lesme Romero says if demand is great enough, he might begin delivering the orders directly to Pivot.
Compton and Romero also teased a cider-vodka sauce they’re planning.
“I’ll try and give him something that’s really acidic and something that actually imposes itself, so you can put it in the sauce and you can still kind of see it through the other components,” said Compton.
When news first broke that Romero was moving his business to Delaware Avenue in 2014, he received a phone call from Compton, whom he had not previously met. Compton told Romero about his plans for Pivot and his excitement about Pasta Garage joining the area.
After relocating from its original downtown location, the Pasta Garage has been operating at 962 Delaware Ave. for more than a year now and has been growing steadily. The North Limestone location, still operated by Lesme, recently reopened under the name Bodega, now a one-stop shop featuring pasta, sauce, bread and olive oil (and soon to feature wine), as well as a selection of ready-made meals.
Romero stated that in its first year and a half of business, the Pasta Garage name-brand recognition might have surpassed that of Lexington Pasta’s.
“We’re really happy – growing steady and keeping control of the growth, because you can lose it like this,” said Romero. He is planning to organize a Delaware Avenue block party next summer. He wants to reach out to businesses across Lexington, inviting them to come together for the growing Delaware Avenue community.
“With a brewery, with a restaurant, with International Book Project, with Cowgirl Attic, that’s what we need,” said Romero. “We need people who can come over here, and not only go to the restaurant, but they can see antiques, they can see books. That’s how you build a community: variety.”
There are actually more businesses on Delaware Avenue than meet the eye – Romero has a business incubator in the back of the Pasta Garage that several businesses call home.
Crank and Boom Ice Cream, an expanding ice cream business with a popular brick-and-mortar “dessert lounge” located in the Distillery District, produces all of its ice cream in the incubator, and local soda-producing company Gents Original has been producing its sodas and cocktail syrups in the space for quite awhile, though they are moving production to Pivot. Other companies using the incubator include Jun Bug probiotic honey soda and Ble Amour Neighborhood Bakery.
Romero said he was inspired to start the incubator because he remembers having a difficult time finding a place where he could produce pasta when he was first starting Lexington Pasta Company in 2009, before the business was established enough for a storefront.
“It’s a space for everyone to work together,” he said, adding that the tenants help each other on everything from navigating health department regulations to creating product labels and getting their products into stores.
Public art is one aspect of Romero’s bid to attract more people to the area, and he is currently working on fundraising for a life-size horse statue to be placed in front of Pasta Garage. Also on his wish list for the area: more sidewalks to make the block more pedestrian-friendly, as well as some sort of overpass, tunnel or path that would allow people to traverse a railroad track and connect Delaware Avenue to the nearby Kenwick neighborhood.
With a focus on keeping things local, The Pasta Garage was designed by the architecture and fabrication company Nomi Design, which has an office right up the street at 1584 Delaware Ave.
Nomi’s owner and principal architect, Matthew Brooks, operates under the philosophy that variation is important when approaching the company’s design projects, which can range from big architecture projects to small designs for furniture, such as tabletops and cabinets.
“It keeps you sharp,” said Brooks. “You do the same thing over and over again, you may lose the innovation….we see everything as a design challenge, even the smallest things.”
Although Nomi does work on new buildings, Brooks stated that renovations and adaptive reuse are important to the company. The company designed the Fayette County Schools Warehouse on Russell Cave Road, which was originally a 1970s IBM building that many didn’t think had any value.
In addition to the Pasta Garage, Nomi designed both Athenian Grill locations, The Plantory, Rumi’s Cafe and J. Render’s BBQ, among others.
With the help of another Delaware Avenue business – Honeycutt Mechanical – they designed the metal gears that the Pasta Garage uses as a central design element; the restaurant also utilizes hardwood from Longwood Antique Hardwoods, also located down the street on Delaware Avenue.
“We like local,” said Brooks. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Brooks wants Nomi to be a part of what many of the Delaware Avenue businesses have embraced: good design. He hopes to get Nomi to the point where its offices can add to that and improve its building’s recognition on the street.
“You know that old saying about cobblers: Their kids were always the last to have shoes,” said Brooks. “We’re the same way.”
Another addition to the area is Pomegranate, a wholesale clothing company that has been in existence for 20 years. The company opened at 527 Lagonda Ave., just off Delaware, in September and has added a retail area to showcase its goods, including cashmere sweaters, bags, accessories and equestrian gifts, as well as antique furniture, free monogramming and, soon, fabric by the yard.
“There are a lot of eclectic, creative people in this area,” said Megan Hillenmeyer, the director of business development at Pomegranate. “I think it’s only going to get better. I think over the next five years we’re going to see a real transformation.”
A few of those eclectic businesses are Delaware Avenue veterans: Barnhill Chimney, Stems floral shop and Cowgirl Attic.
Barnhill Chimney, Fireplace and Grill has been at its location for almost a decade, entering the business from the service side, maintaining people’s chimneys and fireplaces, before deciding to find a building, stock products and provide a showroom for customers to browse.
Owner Brion Barnhill said he saw Delaware Avenue’s potential when he picked this location but didn’t expect it grow as quickly as it has.
“You’ve got a fireplace shop, a linen shop, a pasta shop, brewery, lots of shops with special trade up and down,” said Barnhill, who has already had a few business meetings at Pivot. “You can walk next door [to Stems florist] and get the nicest flowers in town. It’s kind of cool because I really didn’t see it happening this fast.”
Owned by Bonnie Dowler, Stems has been in business since 2003,but has worked in the building at 1401 Delaware Ave. since 1978, when it was Berthold Grigsby, another florist shop where she worked for 25 years before purchasing the building and fixtures in 2003 and reopening as Stems. A boutique wholesale florist, Stems has made a name for itself not only for its floral selection but also with its wide selection of wholesale event decor items and rentals.
Dowler sees the changes to Delaware and increased focus on retail as a win for her business
“Our walk-in business has gotten exponentially larger because there’s more to see [on Delaware],” she said.
Cowgirl Attic, a shop that sells recycled, repurposed and reclaimed urban artifacts, moved in 2001 from its original spot on Walton Avenue to its Delaware location when owner Karen Payne retired from the jewelry business and, as she put it, “decided to sell junk.” Her mother was in the same business, so Payne has been going through the process of attending auctions and reclaiming unwanted goods since she was a child.
Payne said she’s hoping an art gallery will join the area, which she said would attract more people and make the neighborhood more well-rounded.
“People can go eat, they can go to the gallery hop, and they can go drink,” said Payne. “And it’s all within a perimeter.”
Cowgirl Attic has been a staple in the community for 15 years, and Payne has seen the neighborhood go through a transformation in that time period. She and other business owners on the block are eager to see how it evolves from here.
“I don’t know what’s next,” said Barnhill. “I’m excited about it though.”