Maggie De La Torre isn’t crazy. She just can’t help being simultaneously happy and sad and giggly and gloomy over the pending sale of De La Torre’s.
She and husband, Miguel, have run the restaurant, Louisville’s only truly Spanish spot, for nearly 26 years, and that long and successful run will end April 11.
When that day comes, they’ll hand the keys to new owners Chad and Lauren Coulter, who plan to open Louvino, a wine-by-the-glass and small plates restaurant in June. Current Equus executive chef, Tavis Rockwell, will captain the kitchen.
“It’s really a bittersweet feeling, but it’s time for it to end,” said De La Torre, punctuating her somber statement with another chuckle. “Miguel and I said to each other that we’re not going to get out of this just because of our, well, A.G.E. But let’s be honest, you don’t want to stay at the dance too long.”
Especially when you miss your children who’ve moved out of town and who are having their own children—overseas.
And definitely if, like Miguel, you’re a passionate hunter who’s spent decades cooking other people’s meats instead of tracking and bagging his own.
And without a doubt you get out when someone pays the right price for your building, prime real estate located in the heart of the Highlands at 1606 Bardstown Road.
“It’s time for us to travel and go see the kids, the grandbaby and, believe it or not, enjoy Louisville. We’ve not really gotten to do that much working in this business all this time,” De La Torre said. The sale also was a sensible business decision. “We were looking at having to spend $25,000 for the improvements you need to make every now and again: new outside awnings, a paint job, new upholstery for seats, things that didn’t make sense doing if someone else would buy the place and come in and change.”
De La Torre is happy for the Coulters, who she said are getting in amid Louisville’s ongoing restaurant boom.
“This is such an exciting time in this business, so they’re going to have a ball,” said De La Torre. “What’s happening now is a lot like what was happening when we all started in back in the day. It was so much fun then.”
Athens, Ga., natives Chad and Lauren Coulter moved to Louisville five years ago. She is a retail pharmacist and he is an instructor at Sullivan University’s College of Pharmacy.
The couple opened Uptown Art Louisville on Bardstown Road two years ago, followed by a second one in downtown New Albany. Chad Coulter said the success of both businesses opened their eyes to an underserved niche.
“Uptown Art is social art entertainment: you paint and drink wine, and people love doing that,” he said, adding that their studios attract 3,000 people monthly. “Bourbon is so big here and craft beer, too, but other than Commonwealth Tap, there’s no place that really focuses just on great wine. Louvino will combine two things we know Louisville people love: to eat good food and drink wine.”
The Coulters were inspired by a self-serve wine-by-the-glass concept in New Orleans that had 110 bottles on tap. Customers use a credit card to pay at the dispenser for their wine, and the system is self-policing. That premise seemed fitting in nutty New Orleans, but a little too risky for Louisville’s Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“They weren’t crazy about self-serve, and we didn’t feel it was smart to push it and put a target on our back,” Coulter said. When it opens in late June, Louvino will serve about 40 wines by the glass, wine flights and small plates. “We think there’s a huge opportunity to bring a lot of really good wines to the Highlands area. There’s nothing like that here right now.”
The De La Torre’s building includes the La Bodega Tapas Bar space and three upstairs apartments. The Coulters will continue renting the apartments, but they won’t use the La Bodega space for Louvino. It will be leased to an undetermined business.
“Our thing is to create a space on the De La Torre’s side that’s has a fun, trendy and energetic atmosphere,” Coulter said. “A lot of Bardstown Road places have been here for a while, and they’re doing great food. But we want to modernize our part of it by putting in a good amount of money into the space.”
Though the Coulters have yet to choose an interior design firm, they’re considering a room “with an industrial feel, lots of wood, stainless steel and brick,” Coulter said. “We think it’ll have a Silver Dollar kind-of feel to it, but be a little more upscale. That’s our vision, but we’ll have to see what’s doable.”
That will include outdoor seating on sidewalk in front of the restaurant and in the yard behind it.
Rockwell has already completed a preliminary small plates menu. The Gosport, Ind., native is a graduate of Sullivan’s National Center for Hospitality Studies who interned at Jack Fry’s joining the opening crew at Corbett’s: An American Place in 2007. He was moved over to its sister restaurant, Equus, to captain its kitchen 2011. He’ll remain there through May.
“I’ve learned a lot working for Dean (Corbett) and he’s excited that I’ve gotten this chance,” said Rockwell, who had entertained offers for other posts in Indianapolis. “My wife and I were happy that I wasn’t leaving town.”
For now, De La Torre hasn’t thought much about what the restaurant might do for its last hurrah, but she said it’s likely “something fun will happen.”
Asked how she’ll feel when the she locks up for the last time on April 11, she laughed, and then the weight of the thought hit her.
“Oh, Lord, it doesn’t seem real to even think about,” she said. “Our employees are very happy for us. We’re such a tight-knit family here. And our kids are so thrilled that we’ll be able to come see them more. … Oh, but that last day … . Won’t that be something? It’s a little scary to think about, but we’re excited about it!”