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Can a new diner save a tiny Lexington mid-century modern gem?

Vegan diner coming to Winchester Road

Lucy Jones plans to restore a mid-century modern building on Winchester and turn it into a restaurant serving plant-based diner favorites like burgers and shakes. She hopes to open later this year.
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Lucy Jones plans to restore a mid-century modern building on Winchester and turn it into a restaurant serving plant-based diner favorites like burgers and shakes. She hopes to open later this year.

Lexington’s Winchester Road corridor is getting another restaurant: Coming soon, a plant-based 1950s-era diner.

Lucy Jones, who is known for creating the Harry Dean Stanton Fest and as the daughter of former Gov. Brereton and Libby Jones, has a new project.

Jones is buying and restoring the building at 944 Winchester that many knew most recently as Great China. She plans to put in a vegan diner, serving plant-based burgers, shakes, sandwiches, salads and, yes, ice cream.

She hadn’t been planning to open a restaurant, she said, but was driving around the neighborhood when she noticed the Chinese restaurant had closed.

“As I’m sure you know we’ve lost lot of mid-century modern buildings in Lexington and this tiny building has long been one of my favorites,” Jones said. “Real estate’s what I do; I rehab residences.”

She recently completed a home in Eastland that she now lives in. She got in touch with the owner and bought the property.

“It came about quickly and accidentally. But given the losses we’ve experience in recent years, this was my chance to stake a flag for preservation,” she said.

In September, the mid-century modern Peoples Bank on South Broadway was demolished after a three-year battle to try to save the turquoise tile beauty with a zig-zag roof.

In 2014, the University of Kentucky tore down eight buildings on campus including the historic Wenner-Gren lab with its curving walls and dorms such as Holmes Hall, designed by Ernst Johnson.

Built in 1950, the Great China restaurant building was originally Ball Dairy, an ice cream store, then Borden’s. According to Lexington History Museum, Borden bought the Ball & Co. dairy in 1970. At some point, it became a Chinese restaurant.

The move comes as Winchester Road, a long-neglected entrance corridor into Lexington, is undergoing a rebirth, with a second Habitat ReStore opening across from Bella Bliss, a solar panel business and other new businesses coming to Winchester and Delaware.

Jones is meeting with contractors to work out the details on how to preserve the building and hopes to open it as a vinyl-booth diner later this year.

“Right now, I’m consulting with people who have started restaurants and trying to create a team of people with like-minded vision,” she said. A vegan, Jones plans a menu of “diner standards but entirely plant-based.”

She’s been vegan for 20 years and remembers Everybody’s Natural Foods on Woodland fondly. She said it’s becoming easier to find good restaurant options locally but there’s room for more.

“I’ll definitely be doing all day breakfast, so we’ll probably be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” she said. “It’s primarily a preservation effort at this point and the diner will take shape from there.”

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