Customers mourn loss of Ramsey's on High Street; new location planned

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Olivia Banford, 7, and her dad, Tom Miller, found themselves at a sunny corner table for their last meal at one of their favorite places.

She loves the coloring and the old building. He loves it that they've eaten there together since she was just old enough to walk.

"We knew we had to come today," Miller said of a trip with his girl to Ramsey's on High Street. Owner Rob Ramsey confirmed Monday that the restaurant was closing at that location after 25 years.

"We will close after today's business," Ramsey said in his first interview about the change. "After serving millions of meals, the old building is just worn out."

The Internet has been buzzing about the potential closing since last week. Ramsey said he had hoped to keep the High Street location open through this week and use that time to inform his staff of the move. But, he said, unconfirmed reports had tipped his hand, and he felt that keeping the High Street location open would increase stress on his employees.

The new location at 151 Zandale will have more open space, an enclosed patio and a pick-up service for to-go orders. It is a dream space that Ramsey has been designing since March. The new Zandale Ramsey's will open between Feb. 6 and 10, he said.

Ramsey's food will stay the same; the retired tie rack and toy chest will move to the new location and Tim Couch's jersey still will be on a wall; the employees will be the same. Even the chairs and tables will be moved, but it won't be the same, exactly.

"It is bittersweet," said Ramsey, who was in the kitchen making eggs Monday afternoon as the lunch rush stretched well into midafternoon. "I didn't have a nickel when I started this place.

"My stomach has been in knots."

Lee Goss shares his nostalgia. Although she lives in Louisville, she has become a fan of Ramsey's on High Street since her son, Morgan, started school at Transylvania University. He's now in graduate school there. When people ask her to recommend a good, local restaurant in Lexington, Ramsey's is always at the top of the list, Goss said.

Morgan Goss lives on Woodland Avenue just a few doors from the restaurant, and he said he was "pretty bummed" about the closing. He's been known to eat at Ramsey's once a week and knew exactly what would be his last meal: "burger, fries, green beans and Ale-8."

Lee Goss hopes the new location will have the same cozy character that's she's come to love. She's pleased they will continue to have her favorite menu item, the hot Brown. On Monday, she was breaking her recent pledge to cut out carbs for one last cheesy delicious splurge.

Rob Ramsey said he couldn't commit to another five year lease on a building that needed major work. Servers, he said, were literally walking over holes in the floor of the kitchen.

Bill Wassmer, who owns the building, said he's always been willing and able to make repairs, but Ramsey would not close the restaurant to allow the work to be done. Still, he said, his relationship with Ramsey and his restaurant had been "like a great marriage."

"I've collected 300 rent payments on time," he said. He said he was sorry to see Ramsey's go but already was getting calls from other people interested in the space.

The question is, he said, which direction to go. "Should we lease it to somebody local, deSha's or Saul Good, or should we go national, like Chili's."

The location, close to the University of Kentucky campus and downtown, is "like the goose that laid the golden egg," Wassmer said.

Gay Reed, a server at Ramsey's known as Momma Gay to her customers, has been at the High Street restaurant for 23 years. She was working as usual Monday, as customers constantly walked through the door, hipsters with pork pie hats, coeds in black yoga pants and NorthFace jackets, middle-aged couples in UK blue who clearly know their way around some fried green tomatoes.

Reed knows them all, she said.

She loves her customers, loves her job and, while she will miss the High Street Ramsey's, she is excited about the new place.

She has no doubt what her people will do.

"They will come to Zandale," she said. "We are family."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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