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Shorty’s is Back
Lexington gets a second chance at a downtown grocery
Shorty’s manager Peter Beattie has a dream: “To have the consumer demand that we open early on Sundays… so they can purchase hand-sliced smoked salmon!” It’s a modest dream, and there’s a prominent suggestion box where shoppers can ask for exactly that, but he has others too.
The suggestion box is filling up quickly. Beattie says, “Being a work-in-progress, some have requested items that are already on order, but my two favorite requests are to bring back the outside dog watering bowl and dog biscuits… and when it was -2 degrees, a request that we serve iced coffee! Needless to say, we will have both.”
Although a real downtown grocery (with or without a dog watering station) has been a dream of every downtowner for the past few decades, the magic just hasn’t happened yet.
Beattie says of the new management team at the recently re-opened Shorty’s, “As the population density of downtown Lexington grows, so grows the need for a downtown grocery store. After that, the key ingredients for success are location, capital, and retail experience. We feel we have that now.”
The new Shorty’s will have a full liquor license, so bourbon, other spirits, wine and the taproom’s 27 taps of beer will flow. Patrons can carry their beverages throughout the store. Also, picking up that fifth for a gift or to restock the house will be part of the new Shorty’s — they will carry an array of package liquor goods.
The opening of a full kitchen with a house chef who makes the deli salads, blue plate special and other items fresh on premises is another change. Beattie says that a gluten-free section will be added to the grocery area. More than 40 will be able to use the sidewalk seating that is planned — a boon for Thursday Night Live attendees to want to take a load off and get a feedbag on. The free wifi and the rail of electrical outlets along the taproom’s exposed brick wall (also newly brought into the mix, from circa 1820) will appeal to those with a laptop and a feel for the ambience.
Highlights of the deli case (and it feels really NY deli at Shorty’s with Beattie’s eye for the original snack or treat shining through already) include: fresh hummus, gorgeous roasted vegetables, tortellini salad, Greek salad and more. They come from a recipe and a chef, not a tub. Panini sandwiches and other sandwiches to order are quickly prepared — the veggie panini with the caramelized onions is a strong choice.
He says, “In my 18 years of retail in Lexington, I’ve learned to stay relevant as an independent, to think like the consumer and be nimble enough to execute changes overnight, something corporate operations can’t (or won’t?) do.”
Currently the closest grocery to downtown is Euclid’s Disco Kroger, set to shutter its doors this spring for a teardown and controversial rebuild (with new setback lines that take the building to the street, and rooftop parking; some neighbors have renamed it Fort Kroger). Chevy Chase shoppers will likely seek refuge everywhere from the Romany Kroger, to Lansdowne’s Fresh Market and Nicholasville Road’s Trader Joe’s.
Part of the nimble nature of Shorty’s is owed to its local ownership and non corporate structure.
Beattie says of how they fit into Lexington’s grocery landscape, “Local and regional chains are rather sterile and unimaginative environments. The best part of growing an independent grocery is to keep the selection ‘in motion,’ by consistently introducing new products while being able to discern and run with trends versus fads.”
A native New Yorker, Beattie’s urban sensibilities are on display. He says, “From fresh crusty artisan bread to prepared foods to paper towels and birthday candles, we create and grow our product selection as a team, in partnership with our customer.”
The new team is ambitious. Beattie says he also hopes “that we grow as a downtown retailer, not merely a convenient grocery store, but as a destination. To accomplish that, we’re starting by expanding from 12 seats to over 90 and making our prepared foods a focal point.”
To Downtown’s Grocery-less Abyss
BY CHRIS CAMPBELL
On the first day after its re-opening, Shorty’s Urban Market is bustling. Contractors are shuffling, looking for answers to questions of where holes are to be cut and which wires are to go where. Lunch time patrons are surveying the grocery space, greeting friends, and some are milling around, waiting for their made-to-order sandwich to be prepared. And Bob Estes, Shorty’s new owner, is pulling in vain at the locked door to the future Shorty’s Taproom – just 20 feet from the grocery’s main entrance. I get up from my seat and open the door from inside. Bob – and a blast of bitterly cold air – barge into the sunny room.
We sit down at a newly-finished table, and grab a cup of coffee from the lunch counter. After a few sips, I get my computer out.
“Honestly, what do you think of the coffee?” he asks.
“It’s actually really good,” I reply
“If you ever come here and think something’s not the way it should be, let me know. I mean it.”
Shorty’s Grocery originally opened as Lexington’s Urban Market in May of 2011 but closed suddenly this past September, much to the disappointment of many downtown workers and residents, myself included. I visited there often; it became a reliable stop for a good, quick lunch, an item that was missing for a 6pm recipe, and – for my dog Max – a place to get a dog biscuit during a walk down Short Street.
Shorty’s location alone served as an important oasis in the grocery-less abyss that downtown has become. With the grocery’s early-fall closing, Lexington’s urban center again was without a familiar place that businesspeople and residents alike could rely on to pick up several things just a few minutes’ walk from their office or front door. Many of us lamented its loss. Bob Estes did too. But he also decided to do something about it. Just less than a month after it closed its doors, he bought the business. Just over two months later, Shorty’s is back, and he hopes, better than ever before.
The first time I ever met Bob was also on the second day of operation of another one of his businesses, Parlay Social. Located at the corner of Market and Short Street, Parlay was Estes’ first bold venture into the hospitality industry. He had purchased the building in 2008, parlaying the sale of real estate in Florida into a downtown investment that included a nightclub, offices and space for a condo on the top floor, which he moved into a year afterwards. When the tenant of the first floor nightclub moved out in January of 2011, he decided to open his own place.
“I saw an opportunity to put together a place with my own vision – a product for baby boomers. I took the best parts from the places I had seen all over the country and wanted to put them into my own space. Good food and quality drinks – with music. “
Estes, a former NASA mission controller (among a variety of other things) relied on Joy Breeding, his fiancé, to really get things moving. With her expertise in the industry, and his attention to detail coupled with a steadfast mantra that staff should meet and exceed customer expectations, Parlay has become a staple.
“It’s been a success from a variety of points of view” he says with a wry smile. “There’s a different crowd there every night.”
Estes’ gregarious and enthusiastic tone carries over from our conversation into several others while we sit and talk. His playful jabbing with two electricians interrupts our interview, but after several other impromptu meetings (at least eight different people came to ask him questions during our interview), he picks back up exactly where he left off:
“We’re here to talk about Shorty’s.”
The space – and business – that Estes inherited was more than just a run-of-the-mill failed entity. Former owners Lee Ann Ingram and partners’ creation was inspired visually, using impressive features from the building’s banking heritage, and integrating them with sleek, modern lighting and flooring, creating a space that was both historic and viable. The grocery itself was also well stocked with items in a relatively small space. I remarked several times during its first incarnation that Shorty’s always seemed to have at least one of whatever I needed.
“Kudos should definitely go to Lee Ann and partners for creating a great business and making my acquisition of it so smooth” adds Estes as he pauses to let another contractor in the taproom door. “I have a vision that’s just a bit different than theirs. I’m glad I got it when I did.”
The new re-imagined Shorty’s main physical change is the addition of more indoor seating. This was done by removing the produce section from the middle of the floor into coolers on the east wall, but more notably by the removal of the partition that once separated the grocery from the wine shop, named Cellar 157 (the wine shop maintained a separate address from the grocery). Estes creatively applied for permits under one address, allowing the wall to be knocked down, and the two spaces to be combined. The expanded seating now allows the building to seat 90 patrons. The added seating capacity necessitated augmenting the lunch fare, so Estes hired chef Helida Cindric to spearhead the menu makeover. The hot sandwich fare will remain largely intact, with the additions of a daily Shorty’s Plate Special available for eat-in or carry out, and more “grab and go” options. You can also now find daily hot breakfast and dinner specials.
More space and an expanded menu just wasn’t enough for Estes and General Manager Peter Beattie. Enter: Shorty’s Taproom.
The main reason for all the commotion going on around us during our interview is the continuing retrofitting of the Cellar 157 space into a 26-tap capacity craft been haven. This cozy room, lined with walnut-stained tables and wall shelves, will soon host up to 26 taps, many of which Estes intends to reserve for local and regional brews.
“They guys around here are turning out some great beer, and we want to have all the Lexington brewers represented.”
The taproom can also be rented out for parties and presentations and will host wine tastings and various in-house sponsored events. Eventually, a second banquet / meeting area will be opened directly above the taproom, on the second level of the building.
With 30 plus seats in the taproom, free Wi-Fi and outlets at every wall seat, the new Shorty’s will provide much more than just a lunch hangout or a place to grab a pint.
“My goal is to create synergy between all parts of this place. You could come and eat lunch here, then later come back for a quick shopping trip, and meet a friend for a beer, and get dinner to go.”
The unique re-envisioning of Shorty’s will allow the most beloved parts of the old business to live on, while providing customers an increased variety of options that simply aren’t available in a single spot anywhere nearby. Within weeks, the store at 163 West Short Street will exhibit a fully functional taproom (liquor licenses are pending at press time), food counter and pack store. It’s just another exciting re-vamped edition to our ever growing revitalized downtown.