Welcome to the April 4 Monday Business Briefing, your private business intelligence digest from Insider Louisville.

Vegan baker opening vegetarian breakfast spot on Barret Avenue

Flora Vegan Treats sells vegan toaster tarts for $20 per half dozen. | Courtesy of Flora Vegan Treats
Flora Vegan Treats sells vegan toaster tarts for $20 per half dozen. | Courtesy of Flora Vegan Treats

Baker Isabelle Forbes is not only expanding her business into a brick-and-mortar storefront, but she’s also adding some animal byproducts to the menu.

Forbes is a vegan and owner of the bakery business Flora Vegan Treats. She is a regular at Flea Off Market and sells vegan pastries and desserts on an order-by-order basis out of Quills Coffee at 930 Baxter Ave.

However, sometime in May, Forbes will get her own kitchen and storefront at 1004 Barret Ave. next to Hound Dog Press and Artist & Craftsman.

“We would like to have a larger line up and offer more treats …(and) bring breakfast to the neighborhood,” Forbes said. “That was our ultimate goal, and we started small so we could do it the right way.”

She told IL that she liked the spot on Barret Avenue because it’s right off Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road. It also has lacked a breakfast restaurant since Lynn’s Paradise Cafe closed. The cafe recently sold to a Nashville company called The Fresh Capital Group.

Called Flora Kitchenette, the breakfast spot will still sell the vegan treats Forbes’ customers are accustom too, but it also will branch out. The menu will include staples such as waffles, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and biscuit breakfast sandwiches. Some dishes will be vegetarian but can be made vegan as well, Forbes said.

Flora Kitchenette will have a rotating list of featured coffees as well as a Saturday farmers market special made from foods Forbes finds at the farmers market.

The eatery will seat 20 people inside and 10 on a backyard patio. Forbes said she is hoping to find a local artist to paint a mural on the wall in the backyard to liven it up.

“We have an amazing backyard with a beautiful apple tree,” she said. “It’s a very pleasant area.”

Inside, the restaurant will be brightly painted with mix-matched decor, giving off a retro vibe, Forbes said, “hence the name kitchenette.” —Caitlin Bowling

Wisconsin lawmakers want “zero job reductions” guarantee before Aetna/Humana deal approval

Humana horizontalTwo Wisconsin lawmakers want the state’s insurance commissioner to get a guarantee from Aetna and Humana that they won’t cut jobs before the state signs off on the proposed merger.

Hartford, Conn.-based health insurer wants to buy Louisville-based rival Humana for $37 billion. Shareholders of both companies have given the go-ahead, but the deal still has to be approved by some state insurance and federal and antitrust regulators.

Ten of 20 states have approved the acquisition. In some states, the companies have seen little opposition. For example, Kentucky’s top insurance official gave his approval in February — without a formal public hearing that had been planned for this spring. Health care experts had told the state that the deal would have little impact on Kentucky’s health insurance industry because Aetna has such a limited presence here.

In Florida, however, a key state for both companies because of its Medicare population, the Office of Insurance Regulation approved the deal, but physician groups have asked the state’s attorney general to reject it.

And last week, Wisconsin media reported that state lawmakers Eric Genrich and Dave Hansen told that state’s insurance commissioner in a letter that they worried about the deal’s impact on insurance market competition and Humana’s 3,100 Wisconsin employees. Humana is the single-largest employer in Brown County, Wis., which includes the city of Green Bay.

“The loss of Humana’s family-supporting jobs and charitable commitments to the community would be a devastating blow to greater Green Bay,” the lawmakers wrote. “For that reason, we ask that (the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance) receive a guarantee of zero job reductions within Humana’s Wisconsin locations should the proposed merger proceed.” —Boris Ladwig

CEO of EcoBridge Industries steps down, will seek alternative cancer treatment in California

Sean Vandevander and Elisa Owen | EcoBridge
Sean Vandevander and Elisa Owen | EcoBridge

Sean Vandevander has stepped down as CEO of EcoBridge Industries because a brain tumor he had largely removed four years ago has aggressively returned. Vandevander will be moving to California to seek alternative treatment. He is 32 years old.

Co-founder Elisa Owen has taken over as CEO.

EcoBridge is collocated with WaterStep and partners with farmers and manufacturers, sourcing locally grown kenaf from the farmers, processing it and selling the resulting materials to eco-plastic and tree-free wood companies.

Last fall, Vandevander spoke at an international design conference. He and EcoBridge competed in last year’s Venture Sharks competition, and they also successfully closed a deal with Kiva Zip.

There is a GoFundMe page to help Vandevander pay for travel to California and for the alternate treatments, which are not covered by insurance, if you’re so inclined.

We wish him well and hope for his speedy recovery. —Melissa Chipman

Humana says health incentive program improves employee health, lowers costs

Screenshot of Humana's report.
Screenshot of Humana’s report.

Humana says that employees engaged with its health incentive program HumanaVitality had fewer health problems, fewer unscheduled absences and lower health claims costs.

The program helps employees create paths to health and, if they follow certain steps or achieve goals, employees receive points that they can redeem for fitness equipment, electronic gadgets or charitable contributions.

The Louisville-based insurer said a three-year study of 8,000 employees in its HumanaVitality program showed that those who were “engaged:”

  • Had 17 hours of unscheduled absences per year, compared to 23 hours for other employees
  • Had 6 percent lower health care costs in the first year and 10.1 percent lower costs by the third year, while health costs for unengaged members climbed 17 percent.
  • Were more likely to obtain preventive care.

The bottom line, Humana said: People worked more, and their better health meant bottom line savings for Humana.

The program is available to 3.9 million customers enrolled in Humana’s medical plans.

Humana said that while only 19 percent of employers use such wellness incentive programs, nearly half of employers said they expect to switch to such a program in the next three to five years. The savings could be substantial, Humana said: “productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $226 billion annually.”

Humana saw the biggest reduction in health care costs for “lifestyle chronic conditions” such as weight, tobacco use and stress.

“One critical measure of a wellness program’s success is its ability to engage all members, both the unhealthy and the healthy,” HumanaVitality President Joe Woods said in a press release. “So one of the big highlights in this study is the improved engagement in people with lifestyle-related chronic conditions.” Boris Ladwig

New distillery coming to Shelbyville; will produce liquors using rare Bloody Butcher corn

Jeptha Creed sits right off Exit 32 in Shelbyville. | Photo by Sara Havens
Jeptha Creed sits right off Exit 32 in Shelbyville. | Photo by Sara Havens

Insider received a tip last week about a new distillery being built right off Interstate 64 in Shelbyville. While it’s not breaking news that a new distillery is entering the scene, we did unearth some surprising things that will set Jeptha Creed apart from the others — namely, its use of the heirloom corn Bloody Butcher in its bourbon, vodka and moonshine.

We’ll have a more in-depth story today on Jeptha Creed, but we can share a few tidbits with you early-morning news digesters. The distillery will be run by the Nethery family, who own and operate a dairy farm in Shelby County. Joyce, a chemical engineer, and her husband Bruce, a farmer and entrepreneur, will lead the operations alongside daughter Autumn and son Hunter.

The 15,500-square-foot distillery and visitors’ center will sit on 64 acres of land that will also host a handful of barrel-aging barns and fields growing as much of the ingredients as they can grow for all three products (i.e. Bloody Butcher corn, rye, fruit for the infused vodkas and moonshines, etc.). They plan on producing three types of straight bourbon — wheat, rye and four grain — as well as the aforementioned flavored vodkas and moonshines. And they’re hoping for a fall opening.

Check back later today for more on their story. —Sara Havens

Lynn’s Paradise Cafe leaves gifts to the neighborhood

Vibraphone | Photo by John Gilderbloom via Nextdoor Highlands
Vibraphone | Photo by John Gilderbloom

Lynn Winter has donated several outdoor decorations from her long-defunct and recently sold restaurant to two Highlands parks. Tom O’Shea, owner of the multiple O’Shea’s restaurants, delivered a cement horse to the children’s park just off of Baxter Avenue near the original O’Shea’s and a cement bench and the vibraphone to the neighboring dog park.

John Gilderbloom, director of U of L’s Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods, convinced Winter to make the donations. Gilderbloom stated on the Nextdoor Highlands message board: “The Vibraphone tones are good enough to play several pop tunes like ‘Happy Birthday,’ Beatles ‘Hey Bulldog’ and Elvis Presley ‘Hound Dog.’ There is still work to be done though they need to be secured so they won’t tip over. Also, the Vibraphone needs two pipes fixed and rubber sandals to play tunes with although my palms worked too.”

Gilderbloom valued the donation at $1,248. —Melissa Chipman

Emission-free bus now has free mobile app to help riders

The app went live on March 25.
The app went live on March 25.

The Transit Authority of River City launched a mobile application on March 25 to help people track the city-owned fleet of ZeroBuses in real-time.

“We have gotten quite a bit of feedback about people wanting to know where they go and when they are going to be at stops,” said Kay Stewart, TARC’s director of marketing. “It’s just got a lot of potential to be a big help with visitors and people who live and work in downtown.”

The ZeroBuses emit zero emissions, are powered by rechargeable batteries under the buses’ floor and are free to ride. They travel two circuits downtown: one along Main and Market streets between 10th and Campbell streets and another down Fourth Street between Breckinridge Street and River Road.

TARC spent about $20,000 to develop the app, which not only shows riders the location of the ZeroBus but also estimates what time it will arrive at a given stop and shows users what downtown restaurants and attractions are within walking distance of the stops.

Ridership on the ZeroBus was up 26 percent during the last six months of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014, according to TARC.

With the Ohio River Bridges Project construction and other development occurring downtown, Stewart said the ZeroBus is a great way for people to help cut congestion if they are only looking to travel a short distance.

There are a few third-party mobile apps for riders of the normal TARC buses, but none are partners of TARC, and TARC has no immediate plans to create its own app.

“It’s not something we are working on right now but certainly something we are thinking about,” Stewart said.

Smartphone users can search for the ZeroBus app using the keywords TARC or ZeroBus. —Caitlin Bowling

New Super Duty power too much for Ford’s testing equipment

Ford Motor Co. said its new F-Series Super Duty is so powerful that the automaker had to design new equipment to test the truck’s capabilities.

The Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville is gearing up and hiring workers to prepare for the launch of the new aluminum-alloy body truck. The company had said late last year that it planned to invest $1.3 billion into the KTP and hire 2,000 to produce the new pickup.

Ford-truck-video

To test the truck’s mountain climbing capabilities, engineers attached to the vehicle hitch a dynamometer, which pulls against the vehicle using brake limiter — “a series of electric coils wired together that are energized, acting like a large magnet. This drawbar pull against the truck mimics the effects of gravity while driving up an incline.”

For the last 25 years, Ford had used the same dynamometer, “but the new truck is so powerful we needed new equipment to test out its capability,” Product Development Engineer Jim Sumner said in a press release.

“The fact that even under full load, Super Duty didn’t have any trouble at all is a testament to just how capable this new truck is” Sumner said.

The new dynamometer has a maximum drawbar pull of 5,620 pounds — nearly three times the max of the prior equipment — which allows engineers to simulate steeper hills. Ford said a common simulated grade is 7 percent, but the company’s new dynamometer can simulate an incline of up to 30 percent.

The new dynamometer, which is at the company’s Arizona Proving Grounds, allowed Ford to virtually test the Super Duty on well-known, demanding roads such as Davis Dam, in Bullhead City, Ariz., which goes from sea level to more than 3,000 feet in 11.2 miles; and Townes Pass, a 16-mile stretch in Death Valley that features a maximum grade of 10.1 percent. —Boris Ladwig

Baptist Health to launch high-level health and fitness gym

Screenshot of the D1 Louisville website.
Screenshot of the D1 Louisville website.

Baptist Health will open a new athletic facility April 28 that will provide health and fitness training for anyone from weekend warriors and their children to professionals.

The facility, at 12101 Sycamore Station Place, will have 17,000 square feet of training space, including an 8,000-square-foot turf field, and a full-service physical therapy clinic.

Nick Sarantis, operations manager of Baptist Health Sports Medicine, described the facility as a high-level sports performance, strength and conditioning arena where young athletes can hone their skills, adults can lose weight and advanced athletes can improve their performance and prevent injuries.

Sarantis said the new facility will set itself apart from run-of-the-mill health clubs because customers will be coached the entire time. Classes, which will range from performance and skill to speed and strength, will have five to 15 participants and up to two coaches.

The facility will offer classes before and after work, during lunch and on weekends. Programming will expand in the summer, when children and young adults have more free time.

A basic monthly membership will cost $180.

Baptist Health is the facility’s majority owner. Other stakeholders include D1 Sports Holdings and yet-to-be-named professional athletes. Similar facilities across the U.S. are co-owned by athletes such as Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Chipper Jones. Sarantis said the local professional co-owners will have a connection to Louisville or Kentucky.

Sarantis did not disclose the owners’ investment but he said the wide-open space of the building required little redesign and renovation.

The physical therapy gym, which will launch April 18, will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

For more information, click here. —Boris Ladwig

Permits issued for Bardstown Road Costco

The city has green-lit the construction of the 153,000-square-foot Costco at 3408 Bardstown Road on the former Showcase Cinemas property.

Louisville Forward’s Construction Review Department has issued all the permits necessary for work to begin.

“I want to congratulate COSTCO in this venture, which will be a catalyst for continued economic development in this part of the Bardstown Road Corridor,” Louisville Metro Councilman Pat Mulvhill (D-10) said in a statement. “This transformational project will help the Bon Air and Bashford Manor Area to become the destination it once was.”

Unlike some large development projects, residents and nearby business owners have welcomed the Costco, hoping it will help revitalize that stretch of Bardstown Road. —Caitlin Bowling

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