It’s been a weird week for Louisville restaurants.

On Tuesday my sister called to tell me she tried to lunch at Third Avenue Café, but learned before going there that it was closed. She called the restaurant to confirm and spoke with a man who told her the restaurant’s 12-year run was done.

I called the restaurant, the phone rang at length and eventually rolled over to the fax machine. An email to owner Chris Lombardo wasn’t answered.

When I called Third Avenue’s former publicist, Caroline Knop, to see if she could connect me, she volunteered to call Lombardo and his sister, who is a partner in the business, and ask what was up. She reported back that the restaurant was merely closed for renovations.

I’ve known Knop most of my life and find her totally trustworthy. However, the message from Third Avenue’s owners is questionable, and I asked if there was an official message from them, so she emailed this today:

To the valued customers of Third Avenue Café

Third Avenue Cafe is having a facelift!  Over the next few weeks, we will be taking some time off to restructure our space, revise our menu, and renew our commitment to providing great food in a fun, local atmosphere.  Not to worry, we’ll still be the home of your favorite vegan and vegetarian items, as well as some creative new inventions for our carnivorous friends!  Customer service and complete satisfaction is our #1 goal, and we look forward to serving you as a better, brighter Third Avenue Cafe in early 2012.  Thank you for your support, and have a wonderful holiday season!

Lauren Harris Owens

Office Manager

The beloved restaurant —some of the best vegetarian food in town can be found there—has struggled amid the slumping economy, and Lombardo told me several months ago that the Old Louisville location “isn’t enough of a draw for people who live in the suburbs.”

Full disclosure: I’ve also known Lombardo, a Casa Grisanti veteran, for most of my life, and he’s never reticent to speak his mind. “It’s been tough, really tough for a couple of years,” he said last spring.

So, renovations? Really.

Here’s where the story gets odd. In addition to my sister being told the restaurant is closed, rumors echoing her message surfaced on LouisvilleHotbytes.com.

And in a completely unrelated conversation I had yesterday with another local publisher, he said a staffer of his was doing verification calls for a local restaurant guide and was told the restaurant was closed.

“The person she talked to identified himself as the manager and said they came to work recently and were told they had no jobs, that the restaurant was closed,” said the man who asked not to be identified.

My hopes are that Third Avenue is truly closing for renovations and that this is all a big misunderstanding. But if there were ever a time to get the message straight, before rumors can start, this is it.

That it’s closed for renovations — during one of the busiest times of the year — should have been communicated to customers and the press ahead of time.

* This weekend’s closure of Zeppelin Café is equally as odd. LEO editor Sara Havens posted on her Facebook page yesterday a somewhat confusing email from Tim Cain, owner of the quirky-cool Germantown restaurant:

Well everyone I’m throwing in the towel. Saturday will be the Last Waltz of the Zeppelin and when I close it won’t reopen. I greatly appreciate my customers but lets (sic) face it I’m the wrong nationality to make it here—I’m AMERICAN. At any rate if you have a local business that you frequent support them because regardless of what is said on the news—Times are hard. Get with your polititions  (sic) and support America, no one else will. Would someone please forward this to Greg Fischer, he’s a good guy and don’t under estimate the ability of Jim King.

Thanks, Tim

Umm, huh?

I get the part that he’s closing, but the “wrong nationality” remark had restaurant blog readers slapping their foreheads. While attending my weekly “Here’s to Beer” class at the NABC Public House last night, teacher Roger Baylor asked the group if they’d read the remark, and several of us said, “Yeah, and what did he mean by that?”

Amazing how fast the news had traveled.

So to Zeppelin Café: We’ll miss you. Sorry it didn’t work out. Hope your final party draws lots of Americans.

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.

3 thoughts on “Questionable closures: Zeppelin Café this weekend, Third Avenue Café for ‘renovations’

  1. I hope Third Ave. is renovating because it used to be one of my favorite places.  It wasn’t money that kept me from going there but that the food had slipped in quality and they were infested with bugs!  Maybe after a closure they can get together and I can enjoy my vegetarian delights once more.

  2. I hope Third Ave. is renovating because it used to be one of my favorite places.  It wasn’t money that kept me from going there but that the food had slipped in quality and they were infested with bugs!  Maybe after a closure they can get together and I can enjoy my vegetarian delights once more.

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