Mayor Greg Fischer has set in motion a plan to raise Louisville’s culinary and bourbon profile, signing an executive order creating a 34-member Louisville Metro Bourbon and Local Food Work Group.
The group comprises local chefs and restaurateurs, local distillers and bourbon aficionados, and tourism officials. The goal, Fischer said during a press conference and signing at Bourbons Bistro on Monday evening, is to make Louisville the world’s top culinary and spirits city.
Noting that tourism is a $1.4 billion industry for the city, Fischer said he wants to take advantage of the fact that more leisure travelers are visiting Louisville specifically for its restaurants and ties to bourbon. The order notes that Zagat’s named Louisville a top 8 global food destination, and that Lonely Planet named Louisville the No. 1 travel destination of 2013.
This effort, he said, is to help shape how travelers perceive Louisville.
“They think of Napa Valley for wine,” he said. “We want them to think of Louisville for bourbon.”
The work group is charged with developing a plan to do this, and to attract travelers “to enjoy our internationally acclaimed food scene and to become a gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”
While no specific goals have been set, Fischer mentioned a downtown bourbon tourism center where tourists can catch buses to visit Kentucky distilleries as one component of the preliminary plan.
Rob Samuels, chief operating officer of Maker’s Mark, is one of those assigned to the group’s Bourbon Committee. He said the idea is the mayor’s and that Samuels has only been involved for a couple of months.
“A lot of what we’re trying to accomplish is already happening,” Samuels said, adding that the idea is to make the promotion of Louisville’s dining scene and bourbon scene more of a collaborative effort.
“We’ll cross-pollinate ideas,” he said. “There are so many natural ways that world-class culinary can come together with world-class whiskey bourbon.”
The Bourbon Committee also includes representatives from the Kentucky Distillers Association, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and Brown-Forman, as well as bourbon historian and author Mike Veach. The Food Committee includes representatives from a wide variety of local restaurants, from Lily’s to Hillbilly Tea. Members of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau plus other tourism boards will team up with economic development officials to make up the Bourbon District Development Committee.
During the gathering, Fischer introduced the group members, who crowded in next to him behind the bar at Bourbons Bistro on Frankfort Avenue. Fischer said tourism in Louisville supports more than 22,000 jobs, with the bourbon industry alone generating 4,200 jobs with $263 million in annual payroll in Jefferson County.
To team the bourbon industry with Louisville’s thriving restaurant scene is only natural, he said.
“With the right strategy and intentional approach,” he said via a press release distributed at the event, “I believe we can grow this segment very rapidly over the coming years.”
Bourbons Bistro co-owner Jason Brauner said restaurants and bourbon bars alike stand to benefit from these efforts. His bourbon-themed restaurant, he said, would benefit by uniting the city’s foodies with its “bourbon geeks.”
“The bourbon geeks already know us,” he said. “But you don’t have to be a bourbon geek to come in here. It will expand our market to the not-every-day bourbon drinkers.”
He added, “We’ve always been on the bourbon end” of the Louisville restaurant scene, and “this marries us finally – it gives us more legitimacy in the food community.”
While a definitive timeline has not been established, Fischer said during his address that another announcement will come in late March, after the committees have had time to go to work and develop a unified plan.