Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

Rumors fly about fate of Bluegrass Brewing Company’s St. Matthews restaurant

During the past week, Insider Louisville has received tip after tip from people who say they’ve heard that the Bluegrass Brewing Company plans to close its St. Matthews bar and restaurant.

In addition, a couple of members of the Worthog Club, the brewery’s mug club, posted on Facebook that they’d heard that the BBC St. Matthews was closing, while a few others stated plans to claim their mugs from the restaurant just in case. A few other people also have posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page or tweeted at the company to ask if the rumors were true.

Photo from BBC St. Matthews’ Facebook

The person who manages BBC St. Matthews’ Facebook responded to one commenter: “Not true. There are rumors floating around, but we don’t know of anything definitive.”

IL repeatedly called owners Pat Hagan and Beau Kerley seeking to confirm or dispel the claims that BBC St. Matthews is closing. Thursday evening, Hagan responded to IL’s inquires via text.

“Right now BBC is still in business and still has the lease on the property at Shelbyville Road,” Hagan stated in the text.

He did not respond to IL’s follow-up text or phone call.

Several different tipsters individually suggested that John Sullivan, the former owner of Sully’s Saloon at Fourth Street Live, planned to take over the space. However, that also remains unsubstantiated. IL tried to reach out to Sullivan but received no reply.

IL also reached out to the property owner, Louisville-based Breeland Development Corp., but company president Brad Breeland declined to comment.

James Rion, general manager of BBC St. Matthews, told IL that he did not have any information and couldn’t speculate on the rumors.

While the rumors have not been confirmed, time will ultimately tell.

When Hagan and Kerley closed Germantown Craft House on Dec. 12, no prior notice was given. Kerley told IL at the time that the decision was nearly as abrupt as the announcement and that management planned to work with staff to find them new jobs at one of their other establishments or elsewhere.

The space has since been revamped as Goss Ave Pub, which opened earlier this week.

BBC St. Matthews has been a staple of the neighborhood since 1993. It later expanded to Third and Main streets downtown and in Theater Square. The Theater Square location closed to accommodate the construction of Kindred’s new Fourth Street headquarters. According to past reports, BBC will take over as the anchor tenant when construction finishes. —Caitlin Bowling

Louisville Slugger provided custom-made vintage bats for Oscar-nominated film ‘Fences’

Denzel Washington, the director and star of “Fences,” planting a kiss on the vintage custom-made Louisville Slugger in the film

The film “Fences” was nominated for four Academy Awards this week, which features at least one vintage bat custom made at the downtown Louisville Slugger factory.

Directed by and starring Denzel Washington, “Fences” is a screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the family of a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh who was a former baseball star in the Negro Leagues. Louisville Slugger spokesman Rick Redmon tells IL the producers of the film requested vintage bats of the era, which Louisville Slugger felt honored to make and provide 12 for.

“They asked us to because they knew, and our archives and records confirm, that Louisville Slugger made bats for Negro Leagues teams and players,” says Redmon. “For ‘Fences,’ we made bats with the name of Denzel Washington’s character Troy Maxson and our 1930s/’40s era logo.”

Redmon isn’t sure how many of the 12 bats were used in the film but says the bat in the screenshot pictured above is a match.

“Their prop department has made it look old, but that’s one of our bats,” Redmon said. “You can see the old school oval H&B/Louisville Slugger logo… Love that he’s kissing the bat right on the logo.”

Redmon says “Fences” is one of many films they have provided custom-made bats for – including “Bull Durham,” “A League of Their Own,” “Field of Dreams,” “42” and some other current projects they can’t disclose yet. “It’s always an honor to participate in films that seek authenticity because there’s nothing more authentic in baseball than Louisville Slugger.” —Joe Sonka

KFC looks to strike gold with new Colonel

The new actor playing Col. Harland Sanders is more difficult to identify than the Colonels of the past.

But KFC has revealed that beneath the glasses, facial hair and golden sheen is actor Billy Zane, known for his roles in “Titanic” and “Back to the Future.”

In his first commercial, Zane is pitching KFC’s new Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken, which will be available for a limited time starting Jan. 30. The price is $5.49 for the meal.

“Just like KFC’s Georgia Gold, I’m sophisticated, classy and gold. Yes, you read that right. I’ve undergone extensive gold plating in support of this new offering from KFC. Totally worth it,” Zane quipped in a news release.

Starting in 2015, KFC started rebranding and brought the company’s founder Sanders back to the forefront. The Louisville-based chicken chain has hired comedians and actors, including Jim Gaffigan, Norm Macdonald and Vincent Kartheiser, to portray various versions of the famously ornery Sanders.

Last fall, KFC executives reported that brand awareness is up 60 percent and sales had risen by nearly $1 billion in the 12 months prior to Sept. 3.

KFC’s chief marketing officer Kevin Hochman is credited with reinvigorating the brand through the new campaign, as is Portland, Ore.-based advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy. Hochman was recently named a groundbreaker on Nation’s Restaurant News’ list of top 50 most influential people in foodservice.

“Remember, not long ago KFC in the U.S. was all but left for dead, overshadowed by its own remarkable international strength, and surpassed domestically by competitor Chick-fil-A,” NRN stated, later noting: “It’s difficult to ignore KFC’s marketing strength as a major factor in its resurgence. For that, Hochman earns a spot on this list.” —Caitlin Bowling

Oliver Group hires new director to increase local client base

Louisville-based leadership consulting firm Oliver Group is looking to grow right here at home.

Oliver Group has hired Jon Head as part of an effort to help the company expand its client base in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Head received degrees in business communications and government from Eastern Kentucky University and is a member of Central Kentucky Association of Health Underwriters and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. He previously led sales teams at companies including Edumedics, Neace Lukens and Humana.

Head has worked in sales in the insurance and health care industries since 1993.

“From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, Jon has garnered a wide range of professional experience and a robust network of contacts,” Steve Hopkins, director of client development for Oliver Group said in a news release. “We are excited to have him join us, expanding our efforts in the regions of Kentucky and Indiana that have been underserved to date.”

Oliver group also recently appointed Jude Thompson, a partner at health insurance brokerage firm AgentLink, and Purna Veer, founder of IT solutions and staffing firm V-Soft Consulting, to its advisory council. The council offers Oliver Group’s executive team an outside point-of-view when it comes to the company’s strategic plan and growth goals.  —Caitlin Bowling

Former RunSwitch PR account director starts own PR firm

Rachel Albritton

Rachel Albritton, formerly of RunSwitch and BK Public Affairs, has started Paperboy PR.

According to her bio, Albritton “is a public relations and public affairs specialist with a wealth of experience in media relations, event coordination, issue advocacy campaigns and alliance development.” Her diverse specializations include restaurant grand openings and high-profile legislative issues.

Brands she has worked with include Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, Yang Kee Noodle and Shatterproof, a national nonprofit that aims to end drug addiction.

Albritton is a graduate of Bellarmine University. In 2016, she won The Landmarks of Excellence Rising Star Award, which recognizes young professionals in the fields of public relations and communications. —Melissa Chipman

‘Silver lining’ of Aetna-Humana merger rejection?

With a federal judge rejecting the $37 billion merger of Aetna and Humana on Monday, many analysts are pronouncing the proposed marriage of the health care giants as dead. While the companies have not ruled out an appeal and expressed disappointment with the ruling – disappointment shared locally by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Greater Louisville Inc. CEO Kent Oyler – other observers argue that the parties involved will be just fine as separate entities.

Bruce Japsen of Forbes argues that if Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan gets his way – along with assistance by the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Senate – Medicare privatization will be accelerated at such a speed that companies like Aetna and Humana will be making too much money off new senior customers to worry about mergers.

“Insurers won’t need to grow Medicare Advantage by acquisition if Republicans get their way,” writes Japsen, as analysts would expect to see “private insurers taking more control of seniors’ benefits through Medicare Advantage or some kind of voucher system like ‘premium support.’”

In a column in The Courier-Journal, former Humana chief operating officer Hank Werronen argues that the rejection of the merger is a silver lining for both the employees of Humana in Louisville and the city as a whole. While Aetna had promised to keep the headquarters of its Medicare and Medicaid business in Louisville, Werronen says that employees would find the Aetna culture “stifling,” and that “in time, the top jobs and decisions would find their way to Hartford. He also notes that a locally controlled Humana would continue the company’s huge philanthropic support of the Louisville arts scene, whereas “Aetna’s heart is in Connecticut.”

As for whether health care consumers would benefit or not from such a merger, that will likely remain a point of contention for years to come and continue to play out in the judicial system. Both companies and their stockholders withstood an initial sharp drop on Wall Street Monday morning once word of the ruling leaked out, but analysts appear to remain bullish on both. Humana stocks closed Thursday at $200.13, roughly the same as they were before the ruling, while Aetna’s have fallen nearly five points to $117.64. —Joe Sonka

East End furniture store decides to close

The owners of Repurposed Modern earlier this week shut the doors of their store.

“Thank you everyone who has purchased from us, we greatly appreciate your support and we hope you are enjoying the items you now have in your collection,” the owners posted on Repurposed Modern’s Facebook page.

The store, located near Westport Village shopping center, closed due to a “lack of consistent revenue,” the owner wrote.

Repurposed Modern is still looking to sell its remaining inventory. Those who want to purchase items can call owner Janet Rauscher at (502) 649-5067. —Caitlin Bowling

Florida-based collection company opening Louisville office, hiring 433

Diversified Consultants Inc., a debt collection company that works with big-name telecom clients, will open an office in south central Louisville that will employ around 433 people.

The Jacksonville, Fla. based company currently employs 930 people in Jacksonville, Portland, Ore., and the Philippines — 835 of those jobs are in the United States

“Louisville’s economy continues to thrive with the addition of a new business services company in south central Louisville. As we usher in a new year, we are proud to welcome DCI to our community,” Mayor Greg Fischer said in a news release. “We are especially excited to welcome home DCI’s chief operating officer, Gordon Beck, a Louisville native and a graduate of Fern Creek High School.”

The Louisville office will employ customer service agents, office support staff, including HR, quality administration, compliance and other functions.

“Ours is an industry that too often gets a negative reputation. DCI is changing that in how we treat our customers and through our own company culture. We got to the top of our industry by being nice. We focus on the customer experience and are legal, moral and ethical,” Beck said. “The reason we’re opening this office in Louisville is our company is looking to expand its customer base, and we know we can recruit the kind of employees who want to be a part of our company.”

Build-out of the Commerce Crossing park will begin at the end of February with a move-in date sometime in April. The project is a $6.65 million investment. –Melissa Chipman

Oh happy day! Woodford Reserve re-releases the Double Double Oaked

Hello, hello, Double Double | Courtesy of Woodford Reserve

The wait is over. Woodford Reserve has re-released the Double Double Oaked, which first kicked off its limited-edition Distillery Series in 2015. Hands down the favorite of the series (at least in this writer’s opinion), it disappeared from store shelves — even at the distillery itself in Versailles, Ky. — shortly after its release, leaving fans of the robust bourbon sad and alone.

But now — there’s a beacon of hope, thanks to Woodford master distiller Chris Morris.

“We take great pride in our ongoing communication with Woodford Reserve fans, and we’re thrilled to hear the positive feedback on Double Double Oaked,” Morris said in a press release. “Fans loved this product for its unique style and rich flavor profile, and we listened to their calls to bring it back for an encore appearance.”

(Apparently, my pleas did not go unnoticed. You’re welcome.)

The bourbon’s namesake came about after some folks at the distillery left a few barrels of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked in their second, heavily toasted barrel for an additional year. This gave the lightly charred wood additional time to work its magic — and boy, did it ever.

Double Double Oaked is available now at the Woodford Reserve Distillery and a few select liquor stores for $49.99 for a 375ml bottle. If you’ve got the spare change, treat yourself to this bourbon. You won’t be disappointed, but you’ll probably end up lonely once again when it disappears. —Sara Havens

In other bourbon news: Familiar faces will flood the inaugural New Orleans Bourbon Fest

Word spread fast this week about the first-ever New Orleans Bourbon Festival, held March 24-26, mostly because many of Louisville’s beloved bourbon fanatics have been tapped to speak at the event. From Equus/Jack’s mixologist and author Joy Perrine and bourbon historian Michael Veach to Whisky Chicks founder Linda Ruffenach and “The Bourbon Babe” Carla Carlton, it’s a who’s-who of writers, experts and aficionados.

It makes us wonder who will actually be left in town to talk bourbon that weekend!

Along with all the major Kentucky distilleries participating in the event, it’ll also include information sessions led by Bernie Lubbers (of Heaven Hill Brands), bourbon writer and cigar expert Maggie Kimberl, author Susan Reigler, author and speaker Peggy Noe Stevens, and Jefferson’s Reserve founder Trey Zoeller, among others.

Tickets start at $130. —Sara Havens

Ford reports a quarterly loss, but ‘solid 2016’ performance

Ford Motor Co. reported a fourth-quarter loss of $783 million on Thursday, or 20 cents a share, attributing it to special items including a pension obligation and a charge for abandoning a factory in Mexico. In the year-earlier quarter, Ford posted $1.9 billion in net income.

Excluding special items, Ford earned $2.1 billion, or 30 cents a share, for the quarter, slightly below analysts’ expectations of 31 cents, according to The Associated Press. Revenue for the quarter fell 4 percent, to $38.7 billion.

The company, based in Dearborn, Mich., adjusted its pension obligations by $3 billion in the quarter, according to its earnings release. It took a charge of $200 million to cancel the plant in Mexico, media outlets reported.

For the year, Ford posted net income of $4.6 billion, down $2.8 billion from a year ago, due to the fourth-quarter “pretax pension remeasurement.”

In a statement, Ford’s chief executive, Mark Fields, said: “We achieved a solid 2016 net income of $4.6 billion, as well as an adjusted pretax company profit of $10.4 billion, which was our second best ever – building on the all-time record we had set the year before. This underscores the substantial progress we are making in expanding our business to be an auto and a mobility company.“

Ford said the strong 2016 results generated its second-best profit sharing payments to more than 56,000 eligible hourly UAW-represented employees: approximately $9,000 for employees on a full-year basis. Ford employs approximately 8,170 full-time hourly workers at Kentucky Truck Plant and approximately 4,450 full-time hourly workers at Louisville Assembly Plant. Eligible hourly workers will receive their profit-sharing on March 9, according to Kelli Felker, manufacturing and labor communications manager at Ford.

In 2016, Ford said it introduced 11 products globally, including its first all-new Louisville-made F-Series Super Duty in 18 years. Ford said the F-Series officially became the best-selling truck in the United States for 40 straight years.

Shares of Ford closed Thursday at $12.37, down 3.3 percent. —Mickey Meece

 

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