502 Cafe will settle into a storefront at South Fourth Street and Cardinal Boulevard this spring. | Courtesy of 502 Cafe
502 Cafe will settle into a storefront at South Fourth Street and Cardinal Boulevard this spring. | Courtesy of 502 Cafe

Hi-Five Doughnuts isn’t the only Louisville food truck getting a brick-and-mortar store it turns out.

Over the weekend, 502 Cafe posted on social media that the barbecue food truck received the keys to its own brick-and-mortar store next to Gray’s College Bookstore in a small shopping center at South Fourth Street and Cardinal Boulevard near the University of Louisville campus.

“That’s the perfect spot,” said owner Chris Williams, adding that it’s close to campus housing and not too far out of downtown. It’s on the way to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium as well, so people can stop in to pick up food for their tailgate.

The area is also relatively barbecue-restaurant-free compared to other neighborhoods where the market is already saturated or near saturation, he said.

When Williams started 502 Cafe more than three years ago, he didn’t foresee setting up a stationary home, but more and more people started asking where they could grab his food on a regular basis.

“We’ve seen the business steadily growing,” he said. “Seeing the potential of where the business could go, I started gravitating in that direction.”

Williams said he’d been looking for a storefront for the last few months when he got a call about the Fourth Street spot opening up. It took about 10 minutes to say yes once Williams saw the place, he said.

The spot was most recently a Southern Cajun restaurant called The Drunken Chicken, and before that, it was home to J. Gumbo’s.

Most of the equipment 502 Cafe needs is already in place, but the dining room will need to be painted and redecorated to fit the 502 Cafe brand. Williams said he has not set a budget for the renovations yet.

Williams has brought on Anthony Happel as a full-fledged partner in 502 Cafe. Happel has more than a decade of experience in the bar business, Williams said, and will oversee the day-to-day operations of the new 502 Cafe store. The space already has a 4 a.m. liquor license, and 502 Cafe will have a full bar, with a focus on local craft beers.

502 Cafe will hire more than a dozen employees to tend the bar, work in the kitchen and serve customers as well as man the food truck, Williams said, adding he’d like to take the truck out daily. Currently, it only hits the road a couple days a week.

With the new store, the food truck will have a kitchen that can support its daily operation and bolster 502 Cafe’s catering operations.

Working out of a commissary kitchen is difficult because businesses can’t set their own hours and only have access to the kitchen and equipment for a limited time, which makes it hard for Williams, who smokes his brisket for 14 to 16 hours.

“Having the home base is really going to help,” Williams said. “This will give us the backbone for the food truck.”

A food truck can also limit what a business can serve. The 502 Cafe food truck doesn’t have a fryer or flat-top grill, but the new store will have both, so Williams plans to expand the menu at the restaurant.

New dishes will include truffle mac and cheese bites, hand-ground burgers and a barbecue Hot Brown, with smoked turkey and fried green tomatoes.

Williams expects to fully open 502 Cafe in time for the Kentucky Derby.

Food truck season is ramping up and the school year is winding down, making the timing tricky, but Williams said the space was too perfect to let go.

“It wasn’t something we really wanted to pass up.”

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]