Facing a recession and increased competition across the road, prominent Lexington restaurant Murrays' has closed.
Co-owner and operator Bobby Murray will continue to run his Merrick Inn and Josie's establishments.
"What this is going to do is simplify my life a little more and let me concentrate on Merrick and Josie's," Murray said Tuesday.
Murray co-owned the restaurant with his mother, Elizabeth "Libby" Murray, who died last month. They opened the restaurant in 2003 inside a restored manor house on a former estate on Harrodsburg Road past Man o' War Boulevard. It was previously called The Homestead and operated by Malcolm Jennings.
The restaurant became known for its innovative American cuisine and elaborate patio. Murray said the closing was not related to his mother's death.
"I probably should have closed it a year ago," he said. "We kept it open and put money into it because of the employees."
He said he moved a handful of them to Josie's and Merrick, but both were fully staffed at the time, so he couldn't accommodate more.
Murray said Merrick and Josie's are both doing well and aren't showing the same issues that hurt Murrays'.
"Merrick Inn is doing great and super busy," he said, adding Josie's has picked up since it changed concepts earlier this year to offer table service instead of just grab-and-go items.
Josie's is in the Chevy Chase Place shopping center on East High Street. Merrick Inn is at 3380 Tates Creek Road, across from Lansdowne Shoppes.
Murray said he believes in the Harrodsburg Road area, but he said Murrays' perhaps was too upscale in pricing for this point in economic history.
"I honestly believe that if you put a Cheddar's at that location, it would be huge because you're surrounded by so many families out there," he said. "If you have kids and a wife, you're just not going to go to Murrays'.
"I feel like if something was there that was more aligned to family dining and priced to $10 or $12 a head, you would be more successful."
Murray said he was hurt when Bluegrass Hospitality Group opened a Malone's across Man o' War Boulevard in the Palomar Centre shopping center. (BHG also operates a Malone's location across from Merrick Inn.)
And the overhead costs at Murrays' were high, he said, pointing, for example, to the plants on the patio that cost $2,500 to $2,800 annually and required watering every day.
Murray put the restaurant up for sale at the beginning of last year as he began to focus more of his time on Josie's. Though there was some interest, he said, the property didn't sell as the economy faltered.
The 92-year-old home, which has 8,375 square feet and sits on 2.17 acres, is once again going on the market.
Restaurateur Wayne Masterman, who owns Portofino downtown and Serafini in Frankfort, lamented the loss.
Murray "certainly runs some of the best restaurants in Lexington and has for a long time. Merrick Inn is the heavyweight champion in my opinion and Murrays' was a beautiful operation," he said.