Restaurant owner looking for investors

The Waterfront restaurant broke from its mooring on the Ohio River on March 11 and drifted into a nearby bridge.
The Waterfront restaurant broke from its mooring on the Ohio River on March 11 and drifted into a nearby bridge. ASSOCIATED PRESS

COVINGTON — The owner of a northern Kentucky restaurant that tore loose from its moorings during a flood says he likely won't reopen at the same spot.

Jeff Ruby told The Kentucky Enquirer that it would be too costly to make the repairs necessary to reopen the Waterfront at Covington Landing. Preliminary estimates from engineers show it would cost about $1.2 million.

The restaurant on the Ohio River came loose from its moorings on March 11 during heavy flooding. None of the 84 patrons was injured, but they all had to be rescued with ladders and ropes.

Ruby and the city have been negotiating on whether to reopen it. Ruby says the option remains open if he can find investors to buy enough shares in the restaurant to pay for the improvements.

"I'm not going to borrow from my other restaurants to subsidize the Waterfront," Ruby said.

Covington City Manager Larry Klein said the city is willing to help with the cost of improvements.

"I think we're all committed to trying to make this work any way we can," Klein said. "These are tough times with the budget, but we're very willing to work with Mr. Ruby and his team."

Klein said a majority of the cost — about $800,000 — would be improvements to infrastructure, such as the gangway, so people would have access to the restaurant.

"There's a lot of infrastructure that goes into supporting a floating riverfront restaurant," Klein said.

Ruby said he would look for investors who want to be part owners in the restaurant. To encourage that, he said he would offer an arrangement where someone could put in $20,000 and get a $25,000 line of credit to any of his restaurants. That's how he financed a remodel of the Waterfront, he said.

"If you get 20-40 guys like that, you got yourself $600,000," Ruby said. "Now, they have a seat whether the restaurant is full or not. Every employee knows who they are. As far as the staff, they treat them as owners. They get the best tables, best parking spots. They get the best selection of steak and lobsters."

Ruby said if he isn't able to find investors, the Waterfront structure would likely be sold and taken elsewhere to be used as a riverboat casino or entertainment venue.

Klein said the reopening of the Waterfront is important, as the city envisions more restaurants on the river.

"It is a known successful business," Klein said. "The business is not a brand new business opening its doors trying to create clientele. It is well known in the region, almost an icon of the Kentucky riverfront."

Ruby said the outpouring of support for the restaurant has surprised him.

"I underestimated how much this meant to the community," Ruby said. "When I'm in Louisville at my other restaurant, everyone is talking about it. I was in Lexington yesterday and people are asking me about it. The governor of Kentucky is talking about it. The mayor of Lexington is talking to me about it. I didn't realize how popular it was."