Is something big finally about to happen here?
Is something big finally about to happen here?

Thank goodness, another chaotic business week comes to an end, with more down side than up, unfortunately.

We created The Closing Bell after we figured out staffers, contributors and insiders were sitting on too many biz-news scoops that couldn’t wait for the Monday Business Briefing.

Since then, TCB has become one of our best-read features, because scoops big and small can’t wait. We grow weary writing about the possible exit of GE’s huge presence here. So we’re going to close out the week with something more up tempo ….

To cheer up, we suggest you might want to tell your CEO you’re headed out early for some ethanol therapy on the Urban Bourbon Trail. And if you are the CEO, this round’s on you.

Brown-Forman may be betting on Bobby Flay with Woodford Reserve project

FN_BFF-04-Bobby-Flay-restaurant_s4x3_lgEver since we hosted Heaven Hill’s Larry Kass last February at our Insiders Meetup, we’ve gotten calls and emails telling us the redevelopment of Whiskey Row along Main Street will include a downtown distillery and a Brown-Forman museum … and maybe more.

In the last few days, we’ve heard there could be far more, including a restaurant partnership with New York-based celebrity chef Bobby Flay. Multiple sources have told IL reporters that Brown-Forman may be backing the Food Network star in a restaurant, part of its Main Street tourist complex.

Flay has fed – so to speak – local reporters various and contradictory teases about possibly putting a restaurant in Louisville, or New York. Huh? Or in Lexington, depending on the reporter. But are they intentional misdirections?

Oddly, IL broke the story back in June without even knowing it when sources called to tell us Flay was touring NuLu, and that his Louisville visit included meetings with Brown-Forman executives.

Fast-forward eight weeks or so, and our sources say Flay may have an arrangement with Brown-Forman related to a Woodford Reserve-focused restaurant. That restaurant would be at Whiskey Row, where the partnership assembled to redevelop the block includes Brown-Forman, the company, as well as Brown-Forman heiress and 21c Museum Hotels co-founder Laura-Lee Brown and her husband, 21c partner Steve Wilson.

Brown-Forman executives, as usual, are holding their cards close to their vests.

“We are always evaluating ideas for all of our bourbon brands but can’t comment on any specific idea at this time,” stated Elizabeth Conway, a Brown-Forman communications manager, in an email response to an Insider Louisville query.

Here’s why we think Brown-Forman is involved:

• A Flay restaurant in Louisville makes no sense unless it’s in a partnership with Brown-Forman. The guy is rich and famous and could open restaurants in far more affluent towns. Why a Louisville restaurant … unless Brown-Forman is bankrolling it.

• Flay loves the ponies as a bettor and a renown breeder. In the past few days, he sold $2.1 million worth of thoroughbreds at Keeneland’s September Yearling sale. 

• Brown-Forman is huge into horse racing, with Woodford Reserve the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” for the past 16 years or so. Brown-Forman also is the sponsor of a number of graded stakes races at Churchill Downs and at Keeneland in Lexington.

Sources told us months ago that Brown-Forman has interviewed architects in New York and in Atlanta, looking for the right people to execute whatever they’re going to do at Whiskey Row — firms with historic preservation experience.

But those same tipsters told us complex alcoholic beverage sales regulations may explain why the project is so long in coming. Brown and Wilson have retail liquor licenses at 21c Museum Hotel for the bar and the Proof on Main restaurant. Which complicated things, because Brown-Forman executives want the Whiskey Row bourbon facility to be dedicated to their BF brand or brands.

Would a restaurant in the Brown-Forman complex make things easier regarding the liquor license?

Finally, we’re hearing from people in the know who say the Whiskey Row plan could include a boutique hotel. Other Whiskey Row investors – and we didn’t know this until a few weeks ago– include Mary Moseley, who owns the Galt House hotel and other Louisville properties including a soon-to-open Embassy Suites at Fourth and Muhammad Ali downtown.

A lot of moving pieces.

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