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.
Texas Roadhouse raising menu price again
Steakhouse chain Texas Roadhouse will implement a 1.5 percent menu price increase during the second quarter of this year, according to the company’s leadership.
It will be the latest in a series of price increases. Since November 2016, Texas Roadhouse’s menu prices have risen just under 5 percent, according to Insider’s analysis of past news reports and earnings releases. The justification for the future and past menu price increases has consistently been rising labor costs, particularly as minimum wage in some states has changed.
“While sales were very strong, we did experience significant restaurant margin pressure in 2018,” Scott Colosi, president of Texas Roadhouse, said on a call with analysts this week. “A highly competitive labor market and our own focus to increase staffing levels within our restaurants drove most of the margin pressure. … Heading into 2019, we do expect labor pressures to continue along with some ongoing commodity inflation.”
Same-store sales in 2018 rose 5.4 percent at company-owned restaurants and 4.3 percent at franchised locations compared to 2017, according to the company’s earnings release. Revenue was $2.5 billion, up nearly 10 percent, in 2018, and net income increased 16.8 percent, to $158.2 million.
The average check during the fourth quarter of 2017 increased 2.4 percent, and traffic was up 3.2 percent, Texas Roadhouse reported.
Despite challenges related to restaurant margins, Texas Roadhouse has “some of the best (same-store sales) in industry,” wrote Jefferies analyst Andy Barish. “Everyday value and execution continue to be powerful drivers.” —Caitlin Bowling
Forecastle producers add Railbird Festival to be held at Keeneland in August
Hold your ears because Keeneland is about to get loud. Wednesday morning, it was announced that Forecastle Festival producer AC Entertainment — which also hosts notable festivals like Bonnaroo and High Water — is planning a new two-day festival on the grounds of Keeneland, the historic Lexington racetrack.
The inaugural Railbird Festival will be held Aug. 10 and 11 and feature national, regional and local music acts (which will be announced later), bourbon and art.
“Railbird will be a celebration of our heritage and an up-close-and-personal Kentucky experience at our historic racecourse,” said Vince Gabbert, Keeneland’s vice president and chief operating officer, in a news release. “AC Entertainment brings an incredible track record and years of experience and expertise in booking and managing highly acclaimed music festivals, so we are so pleased to work with them to create Railbird here on the grounds at Keeneland.”
The event will actually take place in The Meadow and on The Hill surrounding Keeneland, rather than inside the racetrack gates or infield areas. Its name derives from an old horse-racing term for track regulars who hang near the rail to catch all the action — railbirds. And in rock ‘n’ roll, to “ride the rail” refers to the cluster of fanatics who always seem to make their way to the front.
Just like Forecastle, the event also will give back to local nonprofits, which include Central Music Academy, Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, Fayette Alliance and Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. —Sara Havens
Louisville Urban League files plans for sports and learning complex
The planned $35 million sports and learning complex at Heritage West has taken its first formal step toward construction.
The Louisville Urban League, which is building the complex, filed a Category 3 development plan with Metro Planning & Design Services earlier this week.
The plans feature a 130,600-square-foot indoor track and field facility, an outdoor athletic turf field with a track around it and concessions stand, 81 trees and 751 parking spaces. The layout for the 24-acre property also includes about three acres designated for future development.
The Urban League has raised roughly half the funds it needs for the development and recently hired a director of investment to help with fundraising efforts to secure the rest. —Caitlin Bowling
Bourbon City Cruisers now hiring tuk-tuk tour guides
In November, Insider shared the news that a fleet of tuk-tuks would be inhabiting our streets, calling themselves Derby City Cruisers, a new tour extension from Mint Julep Experiences. The rollout is still planned for this spring, and a call for drivers/tour guides just went out this week.
“Becoming a Bourbon City Cruisers tour guide is much more than getting our guests from Point A to Point B. You’ll entertain and engage each group as you travel the city,” the post on Facebook stated.
Rachel Nix, marketing director for Mint Julep, tells Insider they’re looking for about six “Cruiser Captains” to start with, and they’ll have two vehicles this spring and hopefully four by summer.
The Derby City Cruisers will offer various downtown and neighborhood tours for five people at a time, and the vehicles are eco-friendly and have a three-wheel design. Some of the tour themes will range from the Urban Bourbon Trail to distilleries, breweries and more. Guides will be paid hourly and keep their own tips. —Sara Havens
Woodford Reserve announces 20th anniversary Kentucky Derby bottle, Frazier exhibit
March is a big month for Woodford Reserve. The bourbon brand will not only release its limited-edition 2019 Woodford Reserve Derby bottle but also debut a year-long exhibit at Frazier History Museum honoring the 20-year history between the Kentucky Derby and Woodford maker Brown-Forman.
For the second year in a row, artist Keith Anderson designed the label on the limited-edition bottle. The label features thoroughbreds racing across the front. “My vision for this year’s Derby bottle came to me on Derby Day in 2018, when I was at Churchill Downs watching the horses race past me,” Anderson said in a news release. “Their sheer power, their colors and the jockeys are seared into my mind — and now featured on the bottle.”
The special Woodford bottle goes on sale in March for a suggested retail price of $43.99, though it can be purchased online at ReserveBar in certain states.
On March 20, the Frazier will begin hosting an exhibition that showcases all 20 Derby bottles, the original artwork used to make the labels, Woodford Reserve’s $1,000 mint julep cups and other items. The exhibit is titled “Woodford Reserve & the Kentucky Derby: Two Decades of Artistry, Bourbon and Horse Racing.”
“The Frazier Museum is the where the world meets Kentucky,” Frazier President and CEO Penny Peavler said in the release. “So we and our partners at Brown-Forman are eager to celebrate the two industries for which Kentucky is world-famous: horse racing and bourbon whiskey.” —Caitlin Bowling
Louisville City FC announced this week that it had selected Levy to be the food and beverage provider for its new soccer stadium. The Levy name is familiar in Louisville as the company also partners with Churchill Downs, Kentucky International Convention Center and the Kentucky Exposition Center.
Papa John’s introduced a crowd-sourced pizza this week: Hot Honey Chicken and Waffles, which it will roll out on menus later this year.