Lexington Diner opens with help of Kickstarter and determined chef

ctruman@herald-leader.comMarch 10, 2014 

  • Lexington Diner

    Where: 124 N. Upper St. (corner of Upper and Short streets)

    Open: 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

    Phone: (859)303-7308

    Visit: Lexingtondiner.com

Ranada West-Riley got married and went to Hawaii on her honeymoon, only to learn while she was there that she had lost her job. That was in mid-December.

By January, she was on Kickstarter trying to raise money to open a restaurant. She learned about the online fund-raising site from a friend who knew someone who used it to get a business going. She has since learned of more projects that have used the site to fund ideas such as restaurants and films.

Though originally hoping to raise $10,000, a more manageable goal of $2,000 was met. Private investors provided the rest.

Along with her wife and business partner Karin West-Riley, Ranada West-Riley opened the Lexington Diner in late February, just seven weeks after the couple first saw the space their business is now occupying at 124 N. Upper St., at the intersection of Upper and Short street and opposite the old courthouse.

"I just jumped on it ... and the planets aligned," said Ranada West-Riley, 43, about the speedy opening of her 44-seat restaurant. The money raised from Kickstarter went into supplies and food for the coolers.

Karin West-Riley, who has an MBA and previously worked for the startup veterinary pharmaceutical wholesaler VetSource, is the diner's general manager.

The chef's vision is to "take diner food to another level," she explained. That includes offering healthy, "packed-full-of-flavor kind of food," a "farm-to-table sort of diner" that uses the wealth of fresh food from the nearby Farmers Market — albeit with cheeseburgers, fries and hot browns, all delivered in a short period of time for those downtown business folks who have limited lunch breaks.

Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings will be available as well and desserts will include diabetic-friendly items.

Those who contributed on Kickstarter will receive premiums such as meal specials named in their honor and given to them or the private chef services of Ranada West-Riley.

Though not classically trained, Ranada West-Riley grew up in her mother's Ohio kitchen and started cooking at 6. She has worked in restaurant kitchens for 20 years, including Natasha's and most recently as executive chef at Champion Trace Golf Course in Nicholasville.

The menu at Lexington Diner includes such items as the Cadillac Burger, with bacon, caramelized onions, cheese, and a chipotle barbecue sauce; a hummus sandwich; and potato salad, which comes from a recipe belonging to West-Riley's mother.

Does she have a favorite menu item? If she had to go vegetarian, she'd pick Lexington Diner's hummus wrap, although she also likes the Cadillac burger, and for breakfast, the Kentucky eggs Benedict with filet of beef.

"The menu is just going to keep getting better," West-Riley said.

An admitted Food Network junkie, Ranada West-Riley recently did an audition tape that's on YouTube for Guy's Grocery Games, a Food Network cooking challenge show featuring chef Guy Fieri.

Ranada West-Riley had not expected to own a restaurant until later in life, but she's delighted to make the change.

"It's a dream realized," the chef said.

Although the kitchen is small, Ranada West-Riley said that she will hold cooking classes, with the next being wine-infused menus. She will also cook for visiting celebrities, weddings and rehearsal dinners.

Lexington Diner's hours will be extended when Thursday Night Live opens for the season in April and will eventually include night and weekend hours. Ranada West-Riley hopes eventually to open a second restaurant with a license to serve liquor.

Attorney David Marshall, who works nearby, has patronized the diner in its varied iterations. On an icy Monday he sat at the Lexington Diner counter sipping coffee and waiting for his sausage and eggs plate.

"I like the location," Marshall said.

And speaking of that, the West-Rileys say they are aware that the site has housed numerous restaurants, but they're not discouraged.

"We are excited about being in the heart of Lexington and part of the downtown community," the couple said in a joint e-mail. "We are going to make it a success by consistently serving great food and providing great service that brings people back."

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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