Taking a Closer Look at DFI and Downtown.
A recent poll in the State Journal left me feeling like a number of Frankfort residents may not be aware of all that Downtown Frankfort Incorporated (DFI) is doing downtown. When asked if DFI does an effective job promoting and improving downtown, 136 out of the 283 respondents said no. Another 37 said they “didn’t know.”
As one who has now been on the DFI board for a little over a year I can vouch for the spirit and effort being expended behind the scenes on behalf of supporting and developing the downtown area.
Because I have the good fortune to be able to share with the State Journal readers in writing about some of the great businesses and exciting people who make up downtown, I thought I would take one column to share what DFI is doing to help make downtown Frankfort even more special.
To do that I thought it would be a good idea to speak with a few people who are in a good position to know the full width and breadth of DFI’s responsibilities. Local attorney Doug Howard, who himself has an office on St. Clair Street downtown, just completed a stint as the Chairman of the Board for DFI.
“There are many individuals and groups working to improve this wonderful city. But there is only one organization that focuses its efforts on improving the heart of Frankfort, and that’s Downtown Frankfort, Inc.,” Howard told me.
“It brings together merchants, professionals, and residents, in an effort to improve downtown. No other group tries to make sure that all areas of living, working, and playing in downtown are addressed, the way that DFI does.”
I wondered how the duties of DFI are different from that of the Chamber of Commerce. Kim Strohmeier, the Executive Director of DFI explained,
“The Chamber is a membership-driven organization that exists to promote the needs of their members, who are mostly businesses in Franklin County. DFI focuses solely on the downtown district, and our economic development work is not necessarily just for our members.“
Since the proof is in the pudding, as they say, I asked Strohmeier for some proof of the positive affect DFI is having on economic development in downtown Frankfort. It turns out that no less than twenty-six new businesses have opened in the downtown area since the beginning of 2015! And there are more to come in the months ahead.
“Change happens slowly, but with new businesses looking to relocate downtown, it is clear that DFI performs a worthwhile and valuable service to this great City of ours!” says Howard.
Recently the departure of The Woolery left a big opening on St. Clair. But there’s a positive side to that story. “It actually had to move to a bigger space because of its success during its downtown tenure,” Strohmeier told me.
The personal touch that DFI brings to engaging with new businesses makes our downtown more welcoming. Tony Davis, owner of Kentucky Knows on Broadway, just signed up for a DFI membership. "Kim Strohmeier and Joe Dunn of DFI made me feel as if I were a part of the community. And doing so not by calling or emailing but by stopping in and chatting with me!"
But helping attract new businesses is not the only role of DFI.
“We have responsibilities in the preservation and enhancement of the architecture and the aesthetic appeal of downtown. We also organize promotional events to bring people downtown,” added Strohmeier.
Howard agrees. “DFI brings a unique, balanced perspective that includes the summer concerts, Candlelight, and Artwalk, as well as business recruitment, streetscape design, and merchant organization.”
From being at the board meetings and the events I can tell you it’s a lot of work; most of it being done by volunteers who love this city and want to see it shine!
So, next time you are downtown, take a closer look. And know that DFI is working hard to keep downtown Frankfort a special place!
Pollo Bandido Spices Up Downtown.
When we lived in Nashville there was one restaurant – only one – that my family wanted to go to whenever it was time to eat out. Even though it was seventeen miles away from our house, the answer was always the same. “Lets go to Garcia’s.”
So, imagine my surprise finding out that the owners of Pollo Bandido, the newest downtown eatery, are the same team behind Garcia’s in the Nashville area and the Garcia’s in Brighton Park here in Frankfort.
I recently sat down with Juan Garcia and Roger Herrera to find out more about their new restaurant at 225 West Main Street downtown. I discovered the ownership team also includes their fathers Francisco Garcia and Rogelio Herrera. “Fathers and sons,” the pair said, smiling.
A few days earlier my father and I had shared one of everything from the breakfast menu. Several of items were things I had never heard of before. I wanted to know some of the secrets behind their flavorful food.
“All the recipes have been in the family for generations,” said Herrera, revealing to me that the delicious creamy jalapeno sauce I’d sampled was something his grandmother used to make. “We’ve been cooking since we were kids!”
“Cooking is not a science. It’s something simple; something natural for us,” added Garcia.
Speaking of natural I was pleased to learn that all of the ingredients are from the local region. Their meat comes from Lexington and their fruits and vegetables come from Bardstown. Everything in the restaurant is hand crafted and made in house.
Garcia describes the menu as “barbecue with a Mexican flair.” He was born in Degollado, Jalisco in Mexico. Herrera lived from the age of eight to sixteen in Morelia, Michoacan in Mexico. So the Mexican flair is something else that’s natural.
When I asked the two where the name for the establishment came they shared their motto. “Flavor so good it will steal your heart.” Their logo features a “bandit chicken” in a mask and cape who, according to the Herrera’s father, “robs your heart and your taste buds!”
I asked what they’re hearing from customers. “A lot of them talk about how the meat just falls off the bone,” said Garcia.
That could be because of the way it’s prepared. They marinate the meat for twenty-four hours. Then they smoke it for four hours, using either Hickory wood or apple wood. Then they bake it for two hours. And finally they char broil it for five minutes. “It’s a long process,” added Herrera.
The newest hot barbecue sauce they are serving is called “Tropical Reaper.” ‘Tropical’, for the fruit ingredients, and ‘reaper’ for the pepper that is used.
I found it to be delicious, a little sweet on the front end with a nice hot kick on the tail.
Herrera enjoys it on the ribs, his favorite dish at the restaurant. Garcia likes the ribs as well but prefers them with the bandido sauce, which is the House barbecue sauce.
Always a fan of peppers, I learned something about them during our conversation. “When you cook peppers it activates the flavor and makes them spicier!” said Herrera.
Garcia and Herrera both stressed the importance of community in the way they approach the business. “We want to look at the people who come in as part of our family,” Garcia said.
He added that they chose the downtown location because they felt like there were “not enough options for people to eat downtown.” Now, open seven days a week, Pollo Bandido is changing that.
The restaurant is doing a good sit down lunch business. In addition, they deliver lunch daily in the downtown area. They also serve breakfast and dinner. “A lot of people pick up food to take home for dinner,” said Herrera.
With so many options, plan to try out this newcomer to Main Street soon; just another of the new businesses making downtown Frankfort special!
Main Street Pub and Eatery Brings Big City Vibe to Downtown.
As someone who has always had a passion for what I do, I recognize that passion in others. That's what I experienced when I sat down recently with Taylor Marshall and Kelly May, co-owners of Bourbon on Main.
"A gastro pub," is how Marshall describes the establishment.
"It's craft beer, craft cocktails, and craft culinary," says May, also the general manager.
The pair struggled to define the menu. "It's eccentric in the right way. Our chef Anthony Peluso was classically trained. The kitchen is his playground. Everything is hand-made. If we have a salad dressing, it's purposeful."
As I sampled the Taco Quesadilla and the Indian Butter Chicken, a conversation with Peluso confirmed that fact. He brings creativity to the process, interested in providing new tastes that can be found nowhere else in the city.
Of course with a name like Bourbon on Main you'd expect the beverage menu to be special and you'd be right. “We have one hundred-plus Bourbons in stock, twelve craft beers on draft, and eight signature cocktails, all with fresh ingredients," says May.
As a former resident of both Los Angeles and Nashville, Bourbon on Main has something else I have found nowhere else in Frankfort. Vibe.
I couldn’t help but notice an excellent selection of blues music playing in the background during my visit.
Marshall says, "We wanted to create something that would be comparable to an experience in Cincinnati or New York. We wanted that place to be in downtown Frankfort."
I think they’ve succeeded.
The brick walls feature original art. One wall features bourbon barrel lids representing distillers from around the region. There is table seating downstairs and some limited seating at the bar. Upstairs there is seating for another one hundred guests. There is seasonal dining on the back patio with a fabulous view of the river and the capital dome.
Located at 103 W. Main St., the venue is a bit of a hybrid. At lunchtime, between 11:00 and 2:30, patrons order at the counter and the food is brought out to them when it's ready. At dinnertime, guests seat themselves at the table of their choosing, from which they order and are served. Entrées range from around $11.95 to $14.95. There are no tablecloths. The setting is casual and classy at the same time.
The venue is also available for booking events. My server Chelsea had just gotten married the week before and rented the upstairs space for her wedding reception.
"We want people think of downtown as a place to go," said May. “It’s important for downtown to be seen as an entertainment district. Everyone needs to put their best foot forward. The question we ask ourselves is ‘What are they going to say when they leave?’ "
"We must have something customers want. We have no parking. But they are finding parking!" exclaimed May.
May and Marshall credit the parents of their childhood friends with keeping them going during the early days. "We want you to succeed. We are going to keep you open!" they would say.
"That’s the beauty of a small town. The beauty of local,” says Marshall. "You're going to make mistakes when you do a startup and we made our share. But they kept us going.”
During the summer, tourism accounts for about fifty per cent of their business. But community support is important, especially in the winter months.
In general, business is good but there's no complacency. "Now the question is, ‘How do we make this better?’" says May.
Bourbon on Main will celebrate its second anniversary in four months and the future is bright. "This is our first restaurant. It's really hard. But everyone is committed.”
The commitment is working. Treat yourself and stop by for dinner or lunch at Bourbon on Main soon – an establishment that is truly helping to make downtown Frankfort special.
Longtime Downtown Soup Kitchen and Shelter Getting Facelift.
In the mid-1970s community leaders from various churches came together to create an entity providing meals, shelter, and other basic needs for underprivileged men in the downtown Frankfort area. A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization was founded to manage the facility. They named it ACCESS, an acronym for Actively Caring Christians Enlisting Supporting Service.
Located at 311 W. 2nd St., Access, more commonly known as the Access Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter, serves men in the downtown area seven days a week, 365 days a year.
I recently set down with Ed Ball, president of the organization, to learn more about what they do at Access and what their plans are for the future.
Ball originally got involved when he was invited to serve five years ago by Jim Sturm, one of the founding fathers of the organization. It wasn’t long before Ball found himself stepping into a leadership role.
"We serve 26,000 meals a year," Ball told me, sharing that lunch is available to men, women, and children every day. "There are always leftovers and those are served to the men for dinner. We keep breakfast things for men there too."
In addition to the meals the facility can shelter up to twenty-five men per night. While those are the two basic functions of the facility, there are other ways that Access assists men.
"We can help men get counseling, help them find a job, get them into drug rehab or connect them to medical services, and any other basic needs," said Ball. They also provide clothes to the men that have been donated by the community.
Access has 24/7 supervision. Andrew Baker leads the small paid staff. "Andrew has an effective heart for people who are on the fringes," said Ball. "He takes time to get to know the men. On Friday afternoons he leads a worship service"
The facility also has volunteer teams of cooks and servers. "We've had good community support," acknowledged Ball gratefully.
The location, which once served among other things as a grocery store, has never been remodeled. That is, not until now. Access has just completed Phase One of a five-phase update and expansion. With the help of architect Don Jeffers and local builder Frank Haydon, long overdue and much needed improvements are underway. Ball showed me the plans praising Jeffers. “Don has done unbelievable work!”
Thanks to a low cost loan, an adjoining building that used to be a burger joint has been acquired adding much needed square footage to the space. Extensive reconfiguration will take place to improve the kitchen and pantry area providing better access and storage. The bathrooms and showers are also being remodeled. A hallway will be eliminated to create more dormitory space. Plumbing and electric work are being done to help reduce the energy and maintenance costs, which are high in a building that has been in continuous use for thirty years. In addition, the roof is to be replaced and a much-needed sprinkler system added.
These repairs and improvements are a necessity, not a luxury. And even with volunteer help and professionals providing discounted pricing there is still a need for financial support from the broader community.
I asked Ball, "Why do you help?"
"I have a place in my heart for those who are struggling and underprivileged," he said. "I enjoy getting to know these folks. I have learned that people who are living a different type of life have reasons for why they are there that are beyond their control."
Part of what makes a community special is its response to those in need. Access is a wonderful reflection on the heart of Frankfort. Perhaps you’d like to help Access as they improve their downtown facility or offer to volunteer. If so, you can visit their website http://www.accesssoupkitchen.com or give them a call at 502-223-5179.
Make a Resolution to Check Out Downtown Opportunities.
Early in 2016 I began writing a bi-weekly column featuring local downtown people and businesses. It has been wonderful getting to know some of our great downtown personalities and merchants and having the opportunity to share their stories with you, the State Journal readers.
The good news as we set sail into 2017 is that we’ve only just begun. There are many more interesting people with great stories to tell. For me, having grown up in Los Angeles, followed by spending twenty years as a Nashville resident, it has been a joy to be part of a community with a more intimate scale. Every time I’m downtown I see someone I know, certainly a far cry from the metropolitan experience.
I’ve heard from many of you that seeing your downtown through these stories has made you aware of things that you hadn’t noticed before or things that perhaps you had taken for granted or forgotten.
One of the things that has happened to me from writing the pieces is that I find myself more personally invested in the success of these businesses and the whole downtown area. Why? Because it has helped me to realize on a deeper level just how special what we have in downtown Frankfort is.
Our downtown stores are distinct, reflecting the personalities of the owners and the character of the area. The smaller scale of the establishments allows for more personalized service and for real relationships to form.
With the advent of the interstates and strip malls, Anywhere USA has become the norm in this country. The same chain restaurants and retail stores can be found coast to coast. They deliver convenience and affordability but in the process the uniqueness and personality of communities is compromised.
Many small downtowns, and ours is no exception, face challenges posed by the big box stores who offer more of everything under one giant roof. But more is not always better. We lose something when we allow all our restaurant and shopping experiences to become cookie-cutter.
My wife and I and several of our friends once experienced losing a beloved, locally owned, non-chain bookstore in an area of Nashville where we lived. When it closed we heard several people respond by saying, “Oh, I loved that place. I wish I had gone there more often.”
I tell that true story to make this point. Having a special downtown is something that depends on all of us. If we want to maintain a downtown that reflects our local community, we need to take the time to visit the downtown shops and restaurants more often. The bonus is, in doing so it can mean we wind up supporting people we actually know!
What kind of opportunities do we have downtown? Clothes? Downtown’s got ‘em. Gifts? Downtown’s got those too. Books? Uh huh. Art? Yes again. Antiques? You bet. Want to see a movie? No problem. What about Museums? Bingo!
You can handle your banking, drop off your computer to get fixed or your shoes to get repaired, and sign your child up for ballet lessons.
Hungry? There are a dozen eating establishments in the downtown area catering to a variety of tastes.
We’ve come to that time of year when people make resolutions. This year, you can vow to exercise six days a week, or go on that low-fat, low-taste diet plan you’ve been thinking about. Or, instead, you could make a resolution that’s easy to keep!
Make a resolution to be a regular visitor to the downtown area to check out the local merchants. You’ll enjoy yourself and be doing your part in helping to keep downtown Frankfort a special place!
Downtown store is a Treasure Trove!
When I went up the steps at Simply Garden I expected to enter a store with, well, garden stuff in it. What met my eyes instead was a colorful, whimsical, just plain fun space filled with a dazzling array of beautiful gifts and things for the yard and home.
Co-owners Teresa Abell and Kim Hicks say the business started out about four years ago with the pair helping people decorate their outdoor patio spaces and decorative planters. A few years later a friend suggested they get a little retail space. Not long after the space opened up people started coming in looking for gifts. They’ve responded by creating a unique, eclectic inventory.
“We buy what we like,” says Hicks who loves to go antiquing to find different things. “We don’t want to have what everybody else has.”
“We want to be something out of the ordinary. We like mixing it up,” adds Abell. They have clearly succeeded in that regard.
A quick glance around the shop reveals – among other things - plants, jewelry, pillows, mirrors, cards, dried flower arrangements, framed prints, scarves, scented soaps, figurines, handbags, and because it’s the Christmas season, wreaths and ornaments. Imaginative decorations fill every inch of the space.
Sometimes they get asked to look for something special. Hicks says if someone makes a request, “We search for it. We can find it for them.”
In addition to finding treasures they also have suppliers, one of whom sends them things from Europe. While I was in the store two ladies bought an Indian wedding table. Along one wall was a small bathtub from Hungary. Planters, or containers as Abell and Hicks calls them, come in all shapes and sizes it seems.
Even though the shop is successful a key part of their business remains helping people to decorate their own garden spaces.
“In April and May there is a lot of planting and in November and December there is a lot of decorating,” Hicks told me.
“We love working with people, helping them create new things and come up with new ideas,” says Abell. Sometimes it’s just helping people work with what they already have.
“Sometimes it’s just bringing a new perspective to things,” says Hicks. “We’ll hang a picture or move a piece of furniture and people will say, ‘I would have never thought to put it there.’”
The two women didn’t start out as business partners. They first met each other as soccer moms about twenty years ago. “We each had three sons and they were close in age. We sat together for twelve years watching the boys play soccer,” says Hicks.
Abell, who is originally from Lawrenceburg, lives in Frankfort now. Hicks is a Frankfort native. She remembers their shop, which is located at the corner of High Street and Broadway, was a drinking establishment when she was a child. “People come in all the time and tell us tales about Snelling’s Bar.”
To contain as many treasures as it does the space is surprisingly small. The store is only about seven hundred square feet. This means Abell and Hicks are constantly changing the inventory to accommodate new things. “People come in and they’ll say, ‘Gosh, it looks completely different from the last time we were here,’” says Hicks, urging me to come back in January.
There is an additional two hundred forty square feet of outdoor space. In the summer they use that area for classes and workshops but on the day of my visit it is a Christmas wreath staging area.
My visit to Simply Garden certainly helped me get in the seasonal mood. (I left with a Santa hat-wearing wool mouse!) But in any season, this store is one of the destinations that make downtown Frankfort special!
Gallery Offers Creative Opportunities for All Ages.
“I really loved science.”
That’s not the response I was expecting when I asked Jody Jaques, one of the four partners of Broadway Clay, to tell me how she got into art. But then my visit to the pottery studio and gallery at the corner of Broadway and Lewis was full of surprises.
“In science class you were supposed to have all the right answers.” Jaques needed something that incorporated her quirky personality and her creativity.
“I was interested in coming up with a creative answer instead of the right one.” That’s why she dropped calculus to take pottery. She remembers looking at the work being done around her in the class and thinking, “I’m the best person in here. What am I going to do with that?”
Years later, after twenty years as a K-12 art teacher, the pottery making, jewelry making, home-schooling mother of three has certainly found her answer. Watching her throw a pot on the wheel is poetry in motion.
First, Jaques took a big ball of clay and repeatedly slammed it on a table to flatten it out. “Until you fire it you can keep recycling it. That means you can make as many mistakes as you want. You keep recycling until you get what you want.”
Watching her with the clay I blurted out, “What is that?” It suddenly occurred to me I’ve never known where clay comes from.
Broadway Clay partner Les Greeman, a Frankfort native, was there with the answer. “Clay is one part aluminum oxide, two parts silicon dioxide, and two parts water. When you fire it the water molecules get thrown away. The aluminum and silicon reconfigure their electrons to form the outer shell and become chemically inert.”
As I looked at the dozens of cute little clay snow people – Frostys and Frostines - on a nearby table they seemed a world removed from such complex beginnings. I soon discovered that all of them had been made by customers and were awaiting pickup.
That’s one of the many experiences offered by the studio – the opportunity to make your own art!
The studio offers classes for children and adults. They do private lessons as well. They even do parties where a group can come in and have a pottery making experience. Or maybe you just want to come in and learn how to throw a pot. You need just call in and reserve a time.
I asked if people ever come in to watch the potters work on the wheel. “People come in to watch all the time,” replied Jaques. “Especially Les. Les is the pottery guru.”
Jaques believes it is important to continue the tradition of knowing how things are made by hand. “We want to bring in the community to create with us, not only to make pottery, but also to learn how to appreciate it.”
Broadway Clay has been in business six and a half years. Jaques, a native of Bedford, Indiana joined as a partner about eighteen months ago. Bedford is the limestone capital of the world. “The Empire State Building was quarried there,” Jaques is quick to proudly add.
The other two partners are Audrey Hammond, also a Frankfort native, and Anne Elliott from Maryland. Each of the partners has a style all his or her own and their beautiful work is available for sale in the front of the gallery. Prices range from $5 to $150.
Customers can also request original creations on a commission basis. “You say what you want and we’ll make it for you,” Jaques says.
“Only because the community supports us can this place survive. Not all communities have a pottery studio where you are invited to come and learn,” says Jaques. “Everything is local. Very local.”
The larger stores can produce pottery more cheaply because items are made from a mold and mass-produced. But Broadway Clay is a unique place, just another one of the many things that make downtown Frankfort special.