The Feed Bag owner John Petrie just keeps on smiling. Photos by Kevin Gibson.
The Feed Bag owner John Petrie just keeps on smiling. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

For 28 years, John Petrie has fed St. Matthews. But at the end of December, his best-kept secret of a cafe, The Feed Bag, will close its doors. The building has been sold, and the new ownership will make way for something else.

Petrie’s daughter Jenny actually launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to acquire a new location for the neighborhood mainstay, which is tucked behind St. Matthews Station inside a consignment store at 133 Breckenridge Lane. But Petrie decided it was time to pack it in.

“I told her to take it down,” Petrie told Insider. “I felt uncomfortable about it.”

On a recent weekday, the place was hopping as usual. As Petrie chatted with customers and made his rounds in the tiny dining room, he didn’t look or act like a man who was about to close his business of 28 years. He just looked like someone who’d enjoyed the last 28 years.

I asked him what he recommended for lunch — it had been years since I’d been in — and he quickly and enthusiastically offered up the Reuben sandwich.

Feed bag ReubenThe Reuben. Oh, the Reuben. I had forgotten just how much corned beef The Feed Bag stacked on these wonderful sandwiches, but the one he made me was fantastic. Served on a marble rye bun, the mild corned beef blended perfectly with the deftly portioned sauerkraut. The requisite Thousand Island dressing was served on the side so I could apply as liberally as I wanted. Nice touch.

“It’s the best,” Petrie said with a smile after I mentioned I had good memories of the sandwich.

He also highly recommended his chili and gumbo hybrid, Chumbo, which has become a Feed Bag favorite. “We invented it about 10 years ago,” he said.

The chunky Chumbo is packed with ground beef, onions, tomatoes — you know, like chili — but also shredded chicken, okra, peppers, rice and corn, which turns it into sort of a gumbo-meets-burgoo concoction. It’s in a red, tomato-based broth so it looks like chili at a glance, but the broth is a bit more thin, like gumbo. It’s savory and slightly spicy. And it will be missed.

And, of course, there’s Petrie’s own Funky Tea, which is sweet tea with enough lemon and orange to taste a bit like a lightly tart tea and lemonade hybrid. That’s how Feed Bag regulars wash down their lunch before grabbing a slice of chess pie or homemade chocolate chip, caramel and walnut cookies.

John Petrie, left, chats with guests at The Feed Bag.
John Petrie, standing left, hard at work at The Feed Bag.

Hill Harcourt is a Feed Bag regular who has been eating there for 10 or 15 years; over the last three or four years, he said, he is there about once a week. For him, it’s the chili that brings him back — that and the smiling service. He sometimes takes his children, who call Petrie “the tall guy.”

“John always gives them cookies,” Harcourt said. “It’s a very personable kind of place; there are not many places like that anymore. He cares about who you are and wants to know your name. That’s what makes that place so special — you feel like you’re family.”

From Benedictine sandwiches to the “famous” chili to daily specials ranging from lasagna to hot browns to meatloaf, The Feed Bag is running out of time, leaving regulars just a few more weeks to enjoy their favorite lunchtime haunt.

But Petrie isn’t worried about his next steps. He’ll approach it just like he did The Feed Bag — with a smile and some damn good food.

“I’m going to do some catering,” he said, “and expand on that. We’ve made a lot of friends through the years.”

As for the disappointment surrounding the impending closure of his nearly three-decades-old project, Petrie shrugged: “I think it’s nice people feel good about what we do.”

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]