Wilson Sebastian, a co-owner of Willie’s Locally Known, made a heartfelt plea Monday night on Facebook: Come eat at Willie’s more often or it won’t be there much longer.
He opened the video by referring to a Herald-Leader article about the “carnage” among local restaurants: “Hey guys, I just want to take a minute and talk about the news that’s going on about the restaurant business in Lexington, Kentucky, right now. ... it’s legit. It’s very very difficult right now for us. Especially the locally owned independent restaurants.”
He thanked patrons for helping to get Willie’s this far: The bar started in 2012 on North Broadway in a tiny spot, built a following and moved in 2016 to a bigger space on Southland Drive.
But with the influx of new restaurants this year, particularly about two dozen at The Summit at Fritz Farm this past summer, Willie’s has seen business drop, especially during the week.
Enough, he said Tuesday, that without a change, things would be “unsustainable.”
So Sebastian made his pitch: “I also need to ask for your help. ... We count on you ... to survive. ... If you could, come in and watch us beat Kansas ... Have us cater an office lunch. ... Anything you could do right now to help us out would really be a lifesaver. And if you can’t make it over to Southland Drive, go visit some of the other locally owned restaurants. Because they’re feeling it, too. I guarantee it. It’s tough right now. ... I wouldn’t be asking for your help if I didn’t need it.”
He said he was nervous about reaching out to customers this way, he said.
“You’re really not supposed to show any signs of weakness, and I broke that rule last night,” he said Tuesday. “But I’ve always felt like we at Willie’s, what we do with food, live music and for the community, is really more, means a lot more to more people.
“I felt like I was safe in saying if you like us and what we do, come support us. Now’s the time, because it’s rough right now. Our future will be uncertain if something doesn’t change.”
Something did change: Lunch traffic Tuesday was double what it has been, Sebastian said. And one customer bought $1,000 in gift cards to give out for Christmas.
“The reaction has been very, very strong,” he said. “I think the article helped open a lot of people’s eyes. And the response because of the video has been overwhelmingly positive.”
By mid-afternoon, the video had been viewed 25,000 times and had 44 comments, mostly supportive.
“I wanted my message to be more than self-serving,” he said. “Yes, I did it to help Willie’s, but I wanted the overall greater message to be (that) independent restaurants in this town are difficult businesses to begin with, and it’s an incredibly competitive. And right now it’s a little unprecedented on us.
“I’d just like people to take a step back, think about that, … and if they care, now’s the time to go and support those places. ... It was a difficult thing to do. But ultimately I’m glad I did it.”