Business

Could growth in Georgetown’s restaurant, bar scene make it a destination?

The dining room at Local Feed in Georgetown. The restaurant features farm-to-table fare.
The dining room at Local Feed in Georgetown. The restaurant features farm-to-table fare.

Not too long ago there was a minor panic in the kitchen of Local Feed. It was a Saturday and the place was hopping when, oops, no more tomatoes.

“Eighty-six tomatoes” went up the call on the line.

Fortunately, owner Justin Thompson leaned into the fear for only a minute before remembering he had 190 tomato plants growing just down the road. Easily enough, more tomatoes were picked from the garden there. Crisis averted.

Local Feed is bringing farm-to-table fare to Georgetown in a circa 1880 ice house on Water Street. Thompson is taking local to the extreme, living in a house just behind the restaurant, growing herbs on the patio, tending a farm for vegetables just down the road.

The only problem? “I never get off the block,” Thompson joked.

A chef for 20 years, Thompson wanted to create a menu and a business from scratch after years of working for other people.

We have so many things we could use out here, a burger shack, a bakery ...

Chef Justin Thompson, Local Feed

“I didn’t want to do it for somebody else anymore,” he said, adding he has worked at Metropol and the Signature Club in Lexington. He also worked for Lexington chef Jonathan Lundy for many years.

Local Feed is one of several downtown Georgetown bars/restaurants that Mayor Tom Prather sees breathing new life into the area.

“We’re hoping to take it to the next level,” he said of the city’s downtown.

For Thompson, it was the old ice house space, and the potential of tapping into an unmet need in the state’s fastest growing county, that brought him to Georgetown’s Water Street.

He’s hoping to change the thinking of people who live in northern Fayette County. They can get to his Scott County eatery quicker than they can travel across Lexington, he said.

Not much had been done to the brick interior of the building since it was first constructed in the 1880s and water from Royal Spring was used to make 300 pound blocks of ice, Thompson said.

He liked the pairing of the rustic nature of the building and the from-scratch quality of the food. There is a small number of staples on the menu, such as chicken and dumplings, but much of the menu changes because of the freshest ingredients available.

That makes every day in the kitchen a bit of a culinary dance which Thompson finds exhilarating.

He also likes the fact he’s brought craft beers and cocktails to a spot just across the street from where Elijah Craig pulled water to make the first bourbon. (The “first” claim may be in dispute, but the making of the bourbon is not.)

One of the challenges Thompson has discovered is that patrons in Scott County are not in the habit of coming downtown for night life. About 40 percent of his business comes from hotels. Local Feed includes a bar that’s well stocked with bourbon and beer but, he said, “everybody leaves at 8:30 p.m.” Patrons are also not used to coming downtown on Sundays, he said.

Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather believes Local Feed is an important building block in creating an entertainment district along Water Street and highlighting the city’s Royal Springs Park. Georgetown was founded there in 1786 and it’s the location where the Rev. Elijah Craig is credited with distilling the first bourbon whiskey.

Professors from the University of Cincinnati recently brought dozens of landscape design students to Scott County to re-imagine the park space, Prather said.

“We have a goal to make that area a destination,” he said.

Local Feed is part of that, but it’s not alone. Galvin’s, a popular sports bar, has outgrown its current location next to the courthouse and is moving down Main Street to 155 W. Main Street.

Stephanie Jones, who owns the restaurant with her brother, Dan Galvin, said they’ve been in their current location for eight years. Galvin’s, known for burgers, sandwiches and appetizers like jalapeno poppers, will expand from 3,500 square feet to about 12,000 square feet, she said.

We have a goal to make this a destination

Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather

Expanding the kitchen and cold storage area to add more tap beers is the plan. Plus, she said, party rooms will be available for private events. Renovations at the new spot are underway and won’t be completed until at least November, Jones added.

Red State Taps, a satellite of Red State BBQ, recently opened at 123 Opera Alley, just around the corner from Local Feed.

Thompson credits the original Red State BBQ, located at the Sunset Motel, just across the Fayette County line, for being the first culinary pull to bring people north.

Red State owner David Carrollexpanded that effort with Red State Taps, the first craft beer tap room in Georgetown. He shares Thompson’s enthusiasm for changing the mindset of people living in places like Masterston Station who may think that they have to head to Lexington for a good meal and craft beer.

But he’s still getting a feel for what the Georgetown crowd wants and has made some adjustments. Originally, Red State Taps was going to focus on craft beer and small plates. But, he said, it now offers about 70 percent of the more hearty barbecue menu and he’s added some domestic beers since opening in early 2016.

More than bringing business to downtown, the entrepreneurs are becoming a part of the community. Carroll contributes to Scott County charities and supports Scott County and Georgetown College sport teams. Thompson created a non-profit Seed to Feed which holds farm-to-table fundraisers for Scott County non-profits, such as the Amen House which helps the homeless and Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farms.

For his part, Thompson said, he sees possibilities everywhere in Georgetown.

“There is so little here,” but Scott County has the fastest growing population in the state, he said. “We have so many things we could use out here, a burger shack, a bakery,” he said.

In five years, he said, he could see a restaurant and entertainment scene equal to Lexington’s.

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