Once-popular Lexington restaurants live on elsewhere

Eateries once popular in Lexington now thrive elsewhere

ssloan@herald-leader.comJanuary 6, 2013 

  • Share your memories

    If you would like to share your memories of any of these restaurants over the years, please email a brief description of them to ssloan@herald-leader.com along with your first and last name, age and city of residence. They might be printed in a future edition.

  • Visit or learn more

    Here are ways to learn more about these former Lexington restaurants:

    Darryl's: The final Darryl's has been renovated and reopened as Darryl's Wood Fired Grill in Greensboro, N.C. Darrylswoodfiredgrill.com.

    Ed and Fred's Desert Moon: Owners Doug and Judy Eifert have opened Dajio Restaurant in Ocracoke, N.C. Dajiorestaurant.com.

    Jozo's Bayou Gumbo and Yats: Joe Vuskovich, who started both restaurants, now has stores in Indianapolis. Yatscajuncreole.com.

    Kenny Rogers Roasters: While Nathan's Famous sells some branded Kenny Rogers Roasters dishes in the United States, the only restaurants remaining are in southern Asia. Kennyrogersroasters.com.

Have a hankering for a dish from Jozo's Bayou Gumbo or Yats? Perhaps a grilled cheese from Ed and Fred's Desert Moon? And what about that wood-roasted chicken from Kenny Rogers Roasters or a trip to the salad bar at Darryl's?

These once-popular Lexington restaurants continue to live on elsewhere; their owners have either moved on and started anew, or their parent company still has some remaining locations.

So rather than a time machine to find them, you'll just need a car, or, in the case of Kenny Rogers Roasters, a plane.

Jozo's Bayou Gumboand Yats

New Orleans native Joe Vuskovich brought his Cajun cuisine to Lexington in 1989 when he opened Jozo's Bayou Gumbo in Tates Creek Centre. He sold the company, which expanded and later closed, but then began Yats in the old South Hill Station.

His influence lives on here: The people behind two local Cajun restaurants, Gumbo Ya Ya and Bourbon n' Toulouse, both worked for him.

If you want to see the man himself, just drive northwest. After getting out of restaurants, Vuskovich started a manufacturing business that prepared food for them. He moved it from Lexington to Indianapolis in 2000 but lost his biggest client the next year.

"I was a terrible failure at it and ended up getting back into what I knew how to do best," he said.

So he and his wife, Gina, who owned Regina's Club Cafe on Upper Street in Lexington, opened a Yats in Indianapolis.

He now has five locations and is about to open a sixth in the city. He's also sold franchise rights to people who plan to open stores in Colorado and Columbus, Ind.

"Some of the biggest sellers aren't the most authentic Cajun," he said, citing sales of his chili cheese étouffée and white chili dishes. "It's about the food, not the genre, I guess."

Kenny Rogers Roasters

The first Kenny Rogers Roasters opened in Florida in 1991, but it was the brainchild of former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who was instrumental in growing Kentucky Fried Chicken into a global brand and also was friends with the namesake country music star.

Rogers licensed his name for the wood-roasted rotisserie chicken chain, the slogan of which was, "It's the wood that makes it good."

By the time Brown sold his stake in 1996, the company had exploded into 300 stores in 37 states. But its fall was coming. Just three years later, it filed for bankruptcy protection, and both Lexington stores, at Turfland Mall and Patchen Village, closed that year.

"The problem was the corporate people came in, and they thought they were better, and this was all about making money," Brown said recently. "They should have kept a smaller model."

The brand eventually made it into the hands of hot dog restaurant Nathan's Famous, which continues to sell some Kenny Rogers Roasters-branded dishes at its restaurants, though the food is different than what was traditionally served.

The last Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant in the United States was in Ontario, Calif., near Los Angeles; it closed in late 2011. But the brand remains popular in South Asia with locations in Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

"I'm not surprised," Brown said. "It was a great concept."

The company's Asian owners did not respond to requests for an interview.

Ed and Fred's Desert Moon

Downtown diners during the 1990s were no doubt familiar with the restaurant commonly called Ed and Fred's, which opened on Main Street in what is now Portofino and then moved to Grand Boulevard in what are now the offices of Nancy Barron and Associates.

Chef Doug Eifert, who owned the business with his wife, Judy, closed the restaurant at the end of 2003 and moved to Kansas City, Mo.

He worked for other restaurants but found "it wasn't as easy to work for other people after being my own business," he said.

In 2009, the couple moved to Ocracoke, N.C., in the Outer Banks, where they had vacationed years before. They opened Dajio Restaurant a few months later.

"We weren't even planning on opening a restaurant, but this place kind of fell into our lap," he said, noting he's the chef while Judy handles "everything else."

Like Ed and Fred's, the naming convention was personal. Dajio stands for "Doug and Judy in Ocracoke." Ed and Fred's, meanwhile, was named for Eifert's father, Fred, and original partner Mary Jane Sloane's father, Ed.

Eifert brought some of his signature Ed and Fred's dishes, such as pestos and the grilled cheese.

"Obviously, we had to be more seafood-oriented here," he said, adding he remains dedicated to local ingredients just as he was here.

"We're only open from March to the end of November, and we do almost double what we did in Lexington in just nine months," he said. "It's really working out well for us."

Darryl's

Opened in the late 1970s, the Darryl's location on Nicholasville Road was one of Lexington's first mid-price chain restaurants with a unique atmosphere. For months after its opening, customers lined up outside waiting for seats.

But Darryl's came upon hard times. The Lexington location, now home to the Walgreens at Reynolds Road, was one of several closed in January 2002. That happened just weeks before the restaurant's parent company filed for bankruptcy protection. The chain eventually reached the point where only one remained.

"It was a brand that really had focused so much on extracting as much cash out of the business as possible, and nothing had been reinvested in the property or people," said Marty Kotis, who bought the final Darryl's in Greensboro, N.C., in 2010.

"I grew up with Darryl's," he said. "It was always a special, magical restaurant that was always different from others because of its whimsical decor with jail cells, double-decker buses, spiral staircases and things like that.

"As a kid, you look at it and it's amazing."

Kotis set out to revive the restaurant and hired a writer to interview more than 50 people, including one of the founders, who were familiar with the company's past.

"I wanted to modernize it, thinking about what the founders in 1971 would have made today," Kotis said.

The building was gutted and remodeled in a $2.5 million renovation that included spending $100,000 on antiques. The made-from-scratch kitchen returned, and craft beers and Angus beef were added to the menu. The name changed slightly, to Darryl's Wood Fired Grill, and fire pits were added outside.

"The customers loved it," Kotis said, noting annual sales jumped from $1.6 million before the renovation to $4.2 million afterward. "They all remembered Darryl's being fun, and we amped that up.

"It's like a brand-new restaurant."

Now he's thinking about expanding and has set his sights eventually on adding a second store in Raleigh, N.C.

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz

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