Jim Sawyer has owned his namesake restaurant on Main Street near Broadway for 30 years. His burgers and chili are popular with the crowds that gather before University of Kentucky basketball games at nearby Rupp Arena, and he uses game days as a barometer for what is busy and what is not.
This weekend, he says, he served the equivalent of nine UK basketball games in two days.
"It was phenomenal controlled chaos," he said Sunday, getting ready for an actual UK basketball game with more than 21,000 fans that evening. "This truly was almost beyond what small vendors downtown can do."
The chaos, or big business, was thanks to country music megastar Garth Brooks, who performed for a total of about 70,000 people at four concerts over two days at Rupp Arena. Downtown restaurants saw folks come in before and after the 6:30 p.m. shows, and before the 10:30 shows.
Sawyer's had to close at 7:30 Saturday night because its storage fridge was too small to lay in enough food for the rest of the night and for the Sunday game.
Saturday night, Sawyer said, "was the busiest six hours we've had in 30 years. It beat the NCAA tournament, beat Bruce Springsteen."
A block away at Saul Good, manager Hoang Duong said he planned for $23,000 worth of meals Saturday, and the restaurant did $24,000. That was double the sales at the other two Saul Good restaurants combined.
"It started at 2:30 p.m. and didn't stop until we closed the doors at 11 p.m.," Duong said Sunday afternoon as fans in UK blue started to crowd in.
Because Saturday wasn't a workday, it was better than Friday because people had more time to enjoy dinner and drinks before and after the concerts, several proprietors said. Not to mention the flitting snow Friday night.
David Meharg, manager of Dudley's on Short, said Saturday's crowd definitely beat Friday's.
"We thought that we would get that two days," he said of the crowd size. Still, the Sunday basketball game meant great business all weekend.
Thanks to a lot of planning, traffic flow went pretty well, police and other officials said.
A lot of people listened to the warnings and parked on Old Frankfort Pike, where the Lions Club directed traffic and Lextran buses shuttled people back and forth, said Bill Owen, executive director of the Lexington Convention Center.
"There wasn't a lot of parking on our lots for the second show," said Owen.
He called the weekend "unprecedented" and said Rupp employees had plenty to do, cleaning the arena in the 45 minutes between shows, then turning the venue back into a basketball arena on Sunday.
"It's kind of like Rupp Arena's Breeders' Cup," he said. "It's 70,000 people in two days, and a lot of those people came and stayed. I wouldn't want to do it every week, but everyone I've talked to has said it was a good weekend."