Fans of the band Murder by Death might have wondered what Adam Turla and Sarah Balliet have been up to since they settled in Louisville. Those fans might be surprised to hear the answer: opening a restaurant.
Likewise, fans of local food truck Holy Molé might be surprised to know its owner, Max Balliet, is Sarah Balliet’s younger brother, and the two have been dreaming of a venture into the land of food for many years.
Insider spoke with the Balliets by phone to find out more about Lupo, their Italian restaurant that features handmade pasta and pizza from a wood-burning stove. Lupo opened a little less than two weeks ago in Butchertown.
The restaurant has been brewing for quite a while, according to Sarah, but the siblings’ love of Italian food goes back even further.
“When I was in high school and Max was in middle school, we took a family trip to Italy, and I think that was really formative for us,” she says. “It opened our eyes to how amazing the food is there — how fresh and how vibrant and just delicious — and both of us have been back several times since then, just kind of obsessed with it.”
Max’s formative trip to Italy was just a little later, in his teens when he went with a girlfriend.
“It was the first time I went to Italy and I was old enough to appreciate it,” he says. “Everywhere we went, there was wood-burning pizza. I mean Naples … that’s, like, a huge thing there, the wood-burning pizza.”
Shortly after he came home from that trip, he began working at a local restaurant.
“I stared working at Primo as a dishwasher. No idea that I wanted to be a cook in any capacity, and I saw that wood-burning oven there, and I was, like, ‘Holy shit! I can do that. I can do that here,” Max recalls.
It was that moment that ignited his interest in cooking professionally, he says.
While Sarah was traveling the country with Murder by Death, Max was here in Louisville working in the restaurant business and learning how to handle a kitchen. He moved up the chain of command and eventually ended up calling some of the shots as sous chef at the now-defunct Blind Pig.
“They let me have some leeway with some dishes, and they let me write some specials and some private dinner prix fixe kind of stuff,” he says.
After the Blind Pig, it was time for Max to be in charge full-time, and he started Holy Molé. It’s been a mainstay of the food truck scene since 2011, which was around the time food trucks started to grow in popularity.
But there was always talk of a restaurant, according to Max.
“Sarah and I have always talked about it; they’ve always been with the band, kind of watching me with the truck and me working restaurants, and they’ve been stuck out on the road,” he says. “I think in the back of their mind for years, they had an idea that they might wanna settle down, and the restaurant industry is something they’d want to try.”
Sarah said that despite an early love of Italian food, the Balliets and Turla kicked around several ideas for what kind of place they wanted.
“But when we were talking about this restaurant, you know it depended a lot on the space that we ended up with. We weren’t just trying to do one thing and cram it into whatever space we could find,” she adds.
They ended up with a beautiful old brick building down at the very bottom of Frankfort Avenue. It’s easy to see why the building helped them settle on the Italian concept for their restaurant.
It feels like you could have stumbled upon the place while wandering around a small town in Italy.
You’ll have to wait to get a full review of the restaurant, but the food we had — which included a pizza called the Moonchild as well as all three of the desserts on the menu — was pretty great.
Sarah says they want to keep it simple at first and stay away from the spotlight.
“We kind of just wanted to start existing,” she says. “There’s no party planned, it’s just kind of come and see us … we just want to succeed on our merits, and I think so far so good.”
Lupo is located at 1540 Frankfort Ave. Hours are 5-11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.