For at least the past two decades, Nancy Tarrant has walked into The Cheddar Box on the morning of the Kentucky Derby to see the store covered with boxes in bags decorated with colorful ribbons and employees smiling at their work, she told Insider.
“It’s just pretty. It’s just really nice,” Tarrant said, adding: “It’s a good money-maker for us. It’s a good shot in the arm.”
Eight of the cafe’s employees arrive at 2 a.m. Derby morning and create an assembly line to fill the boxed lunch orders with sandwiches, mint chocolate brownies and snacks for people headed to Churchill Downs for its biggest day of racing.
“It always amazes me what a good mood they’re in,” Tarrant said of the employees. “There’s just something about it.”
The cost of a boxed lunch from The Cheddar Box ranges from $17.50 for its vegetarian option, a bowtie pasta with vegetables, to $24 for a grilled chicken salad. The boxes are kept cold with refrigerated ice packs.
For restaurant owners like Tarrant, the boxed lunches bring in thousands of dollars in sales on both Oaks and Derby days.
Tarrant estimated that The Cheddar Box prepares 300 to 400 boxed lunches for Derby goers. Last year on Oaks Day, the restaurant filled 552 boxed lunch orders in a similar fashion to the Derby Day ritual.
For the last decade, a staff of six or seven help Crave Cafe and Catering fill between 200 to 300 boxed lunch orders for Oaks and Derby days, arriving around 5:30 a.m. to ensure most of the boxes are together by 9 a.m. when most customers pick them up, said Shannon McDonald-Foster, Crave Cafe’s general manager.
As a catering business, boxed lunches aren’t out of the norm for Crave Cafe, she said. “We do this every day. It’s not something that is unusual to us. We are small but mighty.”
McDonald-Foster added that all the boxed lunches for Oaks and Derby days are the same price as any other day of the year. Prices range from $7.95 to $10.95.
Numerous restaurants throughout the city offer some type of boxed lunch to take advantage of the Derby business bump as much as they can, and a couple new restaurants have decided to debut their own offerings.
Respected chef Anoosh Shariat said he’s tested new restaurant Noosh Nosh’s boxed lunch offerings extensively to make sure nothing would deteriorate on what is a long and sometimes sweltering day.
“Our menu is very conducive to that,” he said.
Noosh Nosh is selling turkey, ham, club and caprese sandwiches, with multiple cheese and bread choices, a side and a brownie for $15. Orders must be placed 48 hours in advance.
“We hope that it adds value for the clientele we have because they are going to go to Derby,” Shariat said. “There’s a lot of good food at the track, but people look for something easy.”
As of last week, Noosh Nosh had more than 50 orders, but Shariat said he hoped it’d increase to 200 to 300 boxed lunches in the end.
“We’re the new kid on the block,” he said.
But Shariat already has a strong following locally, having run Anoosh Bistro since 2014 and other concepts prior to that.
Another new restaurant, ZEGGZ Amazing Eggs, is taking a unique approach to its boxed lunches. It won’t just include lunch but also a breakfast muffin, an afternoon snack, energy drink powder, a souvenir cup, a poncho, a clear plastic tote bag and either flip-flops for women and shades for men. The offering is $24.99.
“I know what a long, difficult day it is at the track,” said Craig Stevenson, ZEGGZ’s brand strategist. “We understand this day so let’s try to prepare people for what they really need. They need more than sandwiches.”
Because it’s the restaurant chain’s first Derby, Stevenson said they are offering 1,000, but he added that he believes they could sell more. The point of the offering is branding, he said. The cup, the bag, the flip-flops and the sunglasses all will have ZEGGZ name on them.
Some people “have no idea that this is a local company,” Stevenson said. “I would rather get in more people’s hands and give them an idea of what Zeggz is.”