“When I was in college there were three restaurants (in Lexington) where you could get food late night,” says Ralph Quillin, owner of Paris’s Rooster Brew, and developer of an upcoming joint project with Gastro Gnomes in Lexington’s Distillery District. He adds, “There was really no ethnic, no farm to table — Jerry’s, McDonald’s, and KFC were big.”
Fast forward to Rooster Brew and legendary food truck Gastro Gnomes teaming up on a new project scheduled to open in the Distillery District next year. This will be the first brick and mortar location for the Gastro Gnomes and an expansion for Rooster Brew.
“Our partnership with the Gnomes, the first food truck / brewery collaboration brick and mortar we know of, is what I think the evolution of Lexington is all about,” says Quillin. “Collaboration with growers, chefs and brewers, chef inspired menus and absolute excellent service.”
According to Quillin, who is also collaborating with Lexington architect Rebecca Burnworth again, the ambitious new brewery & restaurant will be spacious inside, with 15-foot tall ceilings, and a clean, ascetic atmosphere. That means you’ll be able to see the chefs cooking, the back bar, the pilot brewery, and everything else in the 3,600 sq. ft. space. The location will be on the Distillery District‘s Pepper campus, in the old Pepper Bourbon Barrel House’s first floor.
Burnworth will be a key team member when it comes to exterior patios, windows, doors, the mechanical system placement, and of course, the code, but Quillin will be be micromanaging everything “from logo to stools and tables,” just like he did at Rooster Brew.
“I pretty much have a vision for the new place,” says Quillin.
And he’s not just the owner and interior design man, either.
“I’m (also) the IT guy… and graphic artist / photographer.”
He’s also a farmer (“we have around 200 Angus momma cows”), a veteran of the Lexington Fire department (paramedic, hazmat shift supervisor, and public information officer) and the owner of Quillin Leather & Tack, the largest custom halter (thoroughbred) shop in the USA.
In opting for empire building, he eschewed the “family business” — his father was a physician (as is his son).
“I guess it skips every other generation,” quips Quillin.
Family plays a big role in Quillin’s life. He recently managed to get them all together, “All my grown kids (Cincinnati, Texas & Scotland) were home and we sat around the table at the farm and had beef and produce grown on our place and beer from our brewery. It was one of those ‘man this is something’ moments to look around the table and see and hear all my kids together laughing.”
Quillin aims to bring that same family atmosphere into the community.
His favorite thing about Rooster Brew (other than, of course, getting married there) has been getting to know others over good food and drink.
“It’s the most fantastic place if you love people and sharing great food, beer and tall tales.”
His goal is to bring this atmosphere into the new venture at Pepper as well.
“We want folks—families, to walk in and say to themselves, ‘this is nice’ and then on their way home look at each other and say ‘you know I really felt comfortable there … and the staff was great.’ “
His efforts have been met with challenges, though.
The original Rooster Brew rubbed some of the “old guard” of Paris the wrong way.
“We were not popular back in May of 2014 with a few local downtown businesses. Our philosophy was that a rising tide floats all boats—and bringing people back to downtown Paris was an accomplishment in itself.”
And then, there are all the regulations to deal with.
Quillin has been strongly advocating for the state to raise the cap on how much beer craft brewers are authorized to produce annually.
“Why would the state stifle production that generates jobs and tax dollar? Most of the laws we brew by are antiquated and I would hope that the state could become a little bit more progressive with respect to the craft beer industry.”
There’s also the tax on alcohol sales.
“(And) yeah there (is) that excise tax thing. I’m really amazed by the lack of local support for something as hot as craft beer.”
The new venture will be worth all the investment of time and funds, says Quillin.
“The Gnomes came to us with the proposal,” Quillin said. “How could you turn down an offer that Donna and I felt was one of the greatest compliments we could have ever been paid?”
It paves the way for some delicious combos as well.
“If a beer overpowers a meal then the brewer has failed,” said Quillin. “For me this was the evolutionary course I had innocuously charted, not making MORE beer but combining food, drink and the experience plus leveraging our farm acreage to explore farm to table — OUR farm to OUR table.”
In the end, it’s all about the community.
“Take care of your team and customers and they will take care of you,” says Quillin. “A great community is defined by its art/culture (food is included here) and how it treats it citizens — start here and there is no downside.”
For our Lexington Food Year in Review 2015, click here.
For an additional listing of restaurants which opened and closed in Lexington in 2015: Births, Resurrections, Obits, and Transitions, click here.
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