BY KRISTINA ROSEN
While many restaurants have succumbed to the pandemic, one long standing Lexington culinary institution refuses to be among that crowd.
Alfalfa Restaurant announced their closing in March only to turn around a couple months later and announce its reopening under new ownership.
Tiffany El-Amin and Wali Yusuf El-Amin are the new owners.
A day before the restaurant shutdowns in March, Alfalfa posted a photo online that said: “We are closing indefinitely after this Sunday. Come in to say Goodbye.” Over a week went by before we found out that “closing indefinitely” meant closing for good.
The post urged anyone interested in carrying on the legacy of Alfalfa to reach out and discuss taking over the restaurant. Fortunately, and of course, there was interest.
When she saw the post from Alfalfa about closing their doors, Tiffany El Amin immediately told her husband, “I’m buying Alfalfa. We are buying Alfalfa.”
El-Amin describes herself as a bridger, mover, and connector. Among her many roles, El-Amin is a Local Food Organizer with Community Farm Alliance. The biggest issue she sees in her role is between farmers and communities in terms of distribution and promotion.
What would it look like if she bought the restaurant with the goal to help local producers, provide healthy local food, and engage the community while representing her culture as a black owned business in downtown Lexington?
“It could be at Alfalfa, we could do all of this at Alfalfa!” exclaims El Amin.
Over the past 47 years, Alfalfa has developed into a community hub that transcends location and ownership evolution.
The new owners, who spent their fourth date enjoying the red beans and rice at Alfalfa, understand this. What’s on the menu is vital, but it comes second to what they hope to offer in terms of community and connection.
With the goal to make the restaurant feel and look inclusive, El Admin adds, “Anybody should feel like they’re represented in that space when they walk in there.”
Known as “an unofficial home for hippies and suits alike,” Alfalfa is more like “visiting a relative than dining out.” As Sarah Tackett wrote in 2004 when Alfalfa relocated to Main Street, “bohemians and bankers co-exist amicably among the patronage—and there’s something to be said for a restaurant that has built a sort of diverse enclave that transcends just about every existing boundary in Lexington (rich and poor; black and white; downtowners and suburbanites)—a restaurant that has lasted 31 years in a town where most are lucky to survive one.”
Alfalfa has changed a lot since it first opened its doors in 1973, but the new owners don’t plan to alter the tradition of the restaurant or make vast menu changes.
Rest assured that the Hoppin’ John, Red Beans and Rice, and Buckwheat Pancakes will remain on the menu. The revamped portion of the menu will include build your own salads and omelets instead of the staple choices. Of course, there will be pancakes and waffles as well as the seasonal vegetables written on the chalkboard. Expect to see vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options with additional chicken dishes available for lunch.
The biggest revamp is dinner, which will slowly roll out come August.
“When people come to Alfalfa, not only are they coming to a local spot that is rooted in Kentucky, but they’re going to be eating food rooted in Kentucky,” says El-Amin, who reps the Kentucky Proud brand in all aspects of her life.
The restaurant will soft open in July while the small retail shop inside featuring smoothies, juices and teas will open about a week prior.
El-Amin plans to have Alfalfa open six days a week. For one day a week, doors will be open with a very specific menu for people in the downtown area who may not have access to a meal. “I took the money we had and rebuilt something because our community needed this.”
There’s no question that Alfalfa has stayed a vital part of the Lexington community and its been apparent through the continuous efforts to keep the restaurant alive the past few years.
In 2016, three years after its 40th anniversary, the restaurant was put up for sale by owners Jimm Happ and Betsey Moses. In 2017, ownership was taken over by Salvador Sanchez of A Cup of Common Wealth and Chocolate Holler along with Cameron and Kevin Heathcoat of popular Bourbon n’ Toulouse and Chevy Chase Inn. About a year later in 2018, ownership changed one last time when Amy Messer of Lynagh’s bought the restaurant with business partner Joe McGinley of Cosmic Charlie’s.
We can all agree almost everybody in Lexington has an Alfalfa memory, and if you haven’t yet, now is the time to make some.
Alfalfa is located at 141 E Main St.
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