Lexington culinary institution to sell after 43 years
In a city where most restaurants are lucky to survive a year, Alfalfa Restaurant has stuck around for 43. Built on $2,000 and the idea of food quality before anything else, the restaurant was opened by a group of students who wanted to sell healthy food at reasonable prices.
Alfalfa announced today on Facebook that current owners Jimm Happ and Betsey Moses plan to sell the restaurant.
“There comes a time when a transition is necessary. After 27 years of being part of the loving team at Alfalfa Restaurant, this is one of those times. Betsey and I need to step aside as the owners of Alfalfa. We are open to ideas, possibilities, dreams…
We have a core group of dedicated employees with limited funds and a history of giving beyond expectations, who are willing to offer sweat equity along with their management experience to own part of the business, and maintain the culture and the product which has persisted for 43 years.”
Parties interested in sharing ownership, pursuing sole ownership, or discussing other ideas for the restaurant, can contact them at [email protected] outlook.com.
As one of Lexington’s oldest restaurants, Alfalfa opened in 1973 with a limited menu that incorporated fresh, local foods before it was cool. The menu has grown, but still hews closely to that concept with its use of ingredients from local farms and original recipes like the Hoppin’ John. Today, Alfalfa serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is known for vegetarian and vegan-friendly options (although it is not a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, a common misperception).
A year after it opened its doors in 1973, the restaurant was bought by Marina Ubaldi, along with Jeff Gitlin. Marina was a talented cook and under her ownership, Alfalfa became one of Lexington’s first brunch options.
Throughout the 90s, they won Best Pancake in Ace’s Best of Lexington Readers’ Poll so many times that the category was eventually retired. It’s still no surprise their Buttermilk Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes became, and remain, a Lexington brunch favorite.
In 1987, Ubaldi moved to Florida and sold the restaurant to dishwasher Jake Gibbs (now an LFUCG council person), baker Tom Martin, waitress Cathy Martin and carpenter Peter Fleming. Loyal customers didn’t want to see the restaurant go, and offered employees money to keep the place in business.
More changes would come in 2004 when Jim Happ, who invested in the restaurant back in 1987, became the sole owner. A year later, Happ moved Alfalfa from its 30 year home on UK campus to its current downtown home on Main Street at Lexington’s Downtown Arts Center. And yes, the Birkenstocks did follow.
Regular patrons were skeptical about whether Alfalfa would survive in its new location, but the restaurant remained a familiar home for a diverse crowd.
In 2013, Alfalfa celebrated their 40th anniversary. Friends and Alfalfa alums came for carrot cake, hoppin’ John, live music and assembled for the traditional group photo.
Alfalfa developed into a community hub that transcended location and ownership evolution. It remains to be seen what the next incarnation will bring.
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