The dining room of Louvino
The dining room of Louvino

Intertwining your social life with work in the media isn’t always fun, especially when the Saturday night private event at a new restaurant gets cancelled because the unfortunate venue has plumbing issues.

But that minor inconvenience isn’t remotely comparable to the headaches endured by Chad and Lauren Colter in the run-up to the opening of Louvino (1606 Bardstown Road), their new wine bar and small plates restaurant.

(Speaking of plumbing issues, Loop 22 has been closed since Monday, July 28, with troubled pipes. According to a Facebook post, the restaurant hopes to be open by this weekend.)

“We’ve had to deal with a lot of mechanical issues to overcome some deferred maintenance,” said co-owner Chad Coulter. Louvino is located in the space that was home to De La Torre’s for a quarter century. “Twenty-five years of not maintaining a grease trap takes a toll on your drainage pipes. But that’s all taken care of—and a lot else.”

Lauren and Chad Coulter
Lauren and Chad Coulter

To get the facility up to speed, the Coulters also bought two new HVAC units, two new refrigerators and all new kitchen equipment. And while they haven’t tallied up the total cost, it appears they’re mostly on budget.

“I told Lauren that I’d rather get it all fixed before we open and not have to worry about it later when things were going,” Chad Coulter said, adding that the whole project set them back just over $200,000. “We’re like, ‘I don’t really want to calculate the cost right now! Let’s get open!’”

Which Louvino finally did on Tuesday.

A warning to all past visitors to De La Torre’s: Be ready to catch your jaw when it drops. You won’t recognize the space.

The room is open, well lit and airy. Lots of finished wood—tables, chairs, floors—and gleaming stainless steel provide a simple, yet contemporary look geared toward a casual experience.

The wine station
The wine station

The dominant fixture at the bar is the argon-charged wine system that serves perfectly preserved portions of wine at the push of a button.

Eventually, Coulter said, the large Bardstown Road-facing windows will slide back to let in fresh air and drive a breeze through the dining room to its newly redesigned back porch.

“Right now we can seat about 70, but when we get approval (from the city), we’ll have two eight-tops on the sidewalk and another 20 seats on the patio out back,” Coulter said. “We are really, really pleased with the results” of the redesign.

A soft-opening for family and friends last Thursday tested the 12-person staff to keep pace with washing hundreds of glasses for wine flights. And according to executive chef Tavis Rockwell, he and one cook got all they could handle that night.

“It was insane doing 200-plus plates with just two people,” Rockwell said, grinning. He’s since added another cook, and on busy nights, one to two more will join the crew. “Once we picked up another guy on the second soft-opening night, we rocked it.”

Chef Tavis Rockwell
Chef Tavis Rockwell

Rockwell describes his food as “eclectically awesome fun food, world comfort food” that is meant to be shared. On those two trial nights, he said guests most often chose the fried chicken tacos, hot brown mac and cheese, duck confit flatbread and cookie dough beignets.

“The fried chicken tacos started as kind of a joke when I did it at Equus for staff meal,” said Rockwell, mentioning the last restaurant where he cooked for several years. “But everybody loved it and started asking for it, so we put it on this menu.”

Asked about the challenge of shifting from large to small plates, Rockwell said it’s not as hard as one might assume. Since entrées typically have three to five elements that are, in essence, small plate items, he’s just dividing the food over more plates. The prep work is no different either.

How small plates flow to the dining room, however, is very different.

“We’re trying to send food out that’s as fresh as it’s going to be, so if there are four things on a ticket and two are ready, we’ll send them,” he said. “Most people are going to be sharing anyway, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Preparing for another blitz on wine flights, Coulter made sure there was an abundance of glassware ready at the bar. He said cleverly named flights (which come in three separate glasses held in small wooden caddies) such as Pitino’s Pinots, George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence sold best.

“There were some people who had three flights,” Coulter said. “Shows us we’re probably on to something.”

As the first guests trickled in, I asked whether Lauren Coulter (she and her husband are pharmacists) had any regrets about becoming restaurateurs. She smiled and said no.

“Well, not yet anyway,” she laughed. “It was a little crazier than we expected getting started, but we’re here, we made it. I’m looking forward to seeing it all happen now.”

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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.