The Bristol Bar & Grille in Prospect will close May 29 after 10 years in operation. | Photo courtesy of Bristol Bar & Grille
The Bristol Bar & Grille in Prospect will close May 29 after 10 years in operation. | Courtesy of Bristol Bar & Grille

After a 10-year run in Prospect (6051 Timber Ridge Drive), Bristol Bar & Grille in Prospect will close on Sunday, May 29. According to a news release, operators of the restaurant say Kroger, owner of the Prospect Village Shopping Center, would not engage in negotiations to renew the lease, leaving the Bristol to close its doors.

This Bristol’s closure does not affect its three remaining Louisville operations located in the Highlands, downtown and on North Hurstbourne Parkway, or its waterfront operation in Jeffersonville.

According to Bristol operations director T.J. Oakley, all 30 employees from the Prospect location will be offered positions within the company.

“I’m really disappointed that Kroger … did not negotiate a lease extension for the Bristol,” said Norb Paulin, managing member of HIPP Enterprises, which leases the property. In 2006, Bristol Bar & Grille entered an agreement with Paulin’s Louisville-based group to manage the operation in that space. That deal occurred years before Kroger bought the shopping center. “The leasing agent’s unresponsiveness to Bristol’s offers were very disheartening. It appears to me that there was a predetermined strategy to remove the Bristol and go with another concept.”

According to Oakley, owners of HIPP Enterprises planned to retire this year, end its relationship with Bristol and ultimately let the restaurant company establish a new lease at the Prospect location. He said multiple phone calls were placed and emails sent to Kroger’s lease renewal partner in St. Louis and its new lease partner in Louisville, but none were returned.

He said the situation is particularly disheartening given that restaurant was doing well.

“That was our best year ever there,” said Oakley, adding that Chad Humpich, a Bristol veteran, was promoted to manage the operation. “We put him in there six months ago and really saw improvements in food quality and service — he made it a much better place. And all that was done for us to be successful there for a long period of time.”

The loss of the restaurant will reduce the number of full-service restaurants in that commercial section of Prospect (facing Hwy. 42 between Timber Ridge and River Road) to about a half dozen. Those include Bistro 42, L&J’s Asian Cuisine, Hannabi Sushi, Arata Sushi, Los Aztecas and Blackstone Grille. Two blocks off that strip on River Road is the longstanding J. Harrod’s Restaurant, and about a mile further toward the Ohio River are Cast Iron Steak and Cunningham’s.

Prior to the Bristol occupying the prominent Timber Ridge corner spot at the Kroger center, Max & Erma’s held the slot for five years. Before that the space, like many in the center, remained empty due to what many termed excessively high rent for Louisville.

What business Kroger would like to see in the location remains to be seen. Oakley and others I’ve spoken with off the record suspect it’s another restaurant since interest has been expressed in the existing restaurant equipment. Commonly, in situations where existing equipment stays, an independent operator takes over. Chains, on the other hand, tend to prefer “stripped” locations in order to make room for their specific equipment.

Oakley said the Bristol would like to return to Prospect in the future, but that no locations are available yet. In other words, for the Bristol to get back in, someone has to get out. And the only location with spaces large enough to hold a Bristol is the Kroger center.

“I can say with certainty we did all we could to keep it open and do well there,” Oakley said. “Restaurants sometimes close because they’re not able to be successful, but that wasn’t our problem.”

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.