Louisville restaurants will pick up in 2016 where they left off in 2015: with more new openings. As many as nine independent spots are set to open between the first of the year and March 1, or even sooner if construction crews can speed up the process. That, at least, is the complaint of some owners and operators bemoaning missed deadlines and delays.

(Could construction companies be as shorthanded as restaurateurs these days? It would certainly reflect the nation’s huge shortage of skilled tradespeople.)

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect in the New Year.

Royals Hot Chicken will open Jan. 5. | Photo courtesy of Royals
Royals Hot Chicken will open Jan. 5. | Courtesy of Royals

Royals Hot Chicken now open with limited hours: Royals co-owner Ryan Rogers thought that buying an operational restaurant (the former Taco Punk slot in NuLu) would speed up the opening of his own concept, but no. Well into the redesign, structural problems were discovered in the foundation of the century-old building, and the opening was delayed.

And while the restaurant will open this week, it’ll be with limited hours from 6-9 p.m. Rogers said Monday’s private soft opening showed him exactly what a practice service is designed to reveal, i.e. kinks to work out, new pars to establish, etc. Ironically, he said in a message that the worst thing that could happen would be to have a line out the door like those faced daily at his nearby Feast BBQ restaurant.

Citizen 7 to open Jan. 12: Last spring, the partners behind Citizen 7 (originally named Citizen Taco until a Citizen 7 logotrademark concern arose) hoped to open their Norton Commons restaurant in September, then October, and, well, they stopped making public predictions when building their facility from the ground up took far longer than expected. No harm in that, especially now that the restaurant’s Facebook page claims it’ll open Jan 12.

Insider talked with co-owner Paul Blackburn Jr. just yesterday.

We’re just guessing on Mercato Italiano … Jan. 15: OLE Restaurant Group partner Fernando Martinez is nearly always available for interviews … until crunch time. I texted him on Monday but got no response for an interview request. When I read the most recent Facebook post for Mercato Italiano Trattoria and Market, it claimed the final touches were being added to the restaurant. So it looks like Martinez is down in the bunker and that the restaurant is in the home stretch.

If you didn’t see our detailed story on it in November, check it out here.

No new word on Red Barn Kitchen: Another ORG restaurant projected to open in the former Joe’s Older Than Dirt spot in February is Red Barn Kitchen. But I’ve heard zero about this from within ORG, and there’s not even a Facebook page up yet. So like Catholics awaiting a new pope, we’ll wait and watch in anticipation for smoke signals rising from Chef Reed Johnson’s smokers.

And if I’m betting on an opening date, my money is on April. There’s a lot of work to be done on old Joe’s.

The Hub to roll in mid-January: Executive Chef Jeff Brantley said construction delays at The Hub have not harmed the overall goal to open this Southern-inspired small-plates restaurant in Clifton next month.

View of the entrance at The Hub in Clifton. | Photo courtesy of The Hub
View of the entrance at The Hub in Clifton | Courtesy of The Hub

“Because that’s how it happens in this business, we were hesitant to put a concrete date on it,” said Brantley, who is a veteran of the kitchen at Corbett’s. He’ll be joined by Stephen Dunn, another Corbett’s veteran and most recently the chef de cuisine at Equus. “We had to expand the building by adding on to the back, and that had us dealing with the railroad company to make changes. That held us up a little bit, but we got it done.”

Private soft openings will begin as early as the first full week in January, followed by dinner service only a week or two after.

Brooklyn & the Butcher: NA Exchange owner Ian Hall hoped his new steakhouse in downtown New Albany, Brooklyn & the Butcher, would open in late November, but the overhaul of the historic building in which it’s located has taken longer than expected. When I talked to Hall in mid-December, he said furniture move-in would happen in the first week of January, just as staff training would begin.

Look for this restaurant to open mid-January at the earliest, but surely before month’s end.

River House Restaurant & Raw Bar: Bumped into John Varanese at a Southern Wine & Spirits wine tasting held in conjunction with premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Sweet gig, right? Lucky me, indeed!) Varanese shared his frustration with the pace of progress on the old Falls City Boat Works building that will house his second restaurant, River House Restaurant & Raw Bar, and he joked about going “a little Darth Vader” if things didn’t improve.

“You can say I’m letting them know that we agreed on deadlines that aren’t being met,” Varanese said. “It’s one thing to want to get started and open, but it’s another when you’re also dealing with investors who wonder what’s going on.

“We’re also trying to hire people while telling them to wait a while longer before they can come work for us. That doesn’t make anyone happy.”

He still wants to open in February and said he’ll be pushing crews hard to make it happen.

Noosh Nosh in February?: Yes, even irritation with slow construction teams can leak from behind Anoosh Shariat’s nearly ever-present smile. I ran into the Iranian chef at a Christmas party and asked for a status update on Noosh Nosh, his second restaurant, which will be centered on a pizza, proteins and sandwiches made in a wood-fired oven. (Here’s what Shariat told us about it back in July.)

“It’s not where we’d hoped it would be by now,” Shariat said of the Brownsboro Center inline spot — placed conveniently behind Anoosh Bistro. His wife and business partner, Paula Barmore, also at the party, nodded and rolled her eyes in agreement. “We really want to get this going, but it’s delayed. I could be mad about it, but what would that do? There’s not much we can do about it.”

I’m betting on an early February opening.

February for Doc’s Cantina?: Few are surprised that the conversion of the huge two-story Ohio River-side edifice Doc's Cantina logolast known as Tumbleweed, to Doc’s Cantina, will take longer than expected. But that doesn’t lessen the frustration shared by partners within the Falls City Hospitality Group. Operating partner Brett Davis knew it was optimistic to set a target opening date of October 2015, and then the reality of making significant structural changes to the building officially shoved the unveiling into 2016.

When I told Davis a source close to the company set the opening for Feb. 16, he replied, “We’ll see. … People who talk aren’t always well informed.” He said he’d not be surprised if it happened before that, but implied a late February or early March opening is also possible.

(IL staffer Caitlin Bowling wrote another piece mentioning expected openings. Click here to see which newcomers aren’t on my list.)

Don’t confuse Cunningham’s with Cunningham Restaurant Group: When you live here all your life, you just take stuff for granted, like knowing Cunningham’s Creekside restaurant on River Road has nothing to do with Cunningham Restaurant Group (CRG). Similar corporate surname, but drastically different operations. The latter group owns and operates the upscale-casual Mesh restaurant on Brownsboro Road.

Mike Cunningham, founder of Indianapolis-based CRG, recently told me that when Mesh customers get their frequent diner cards, the plastic cards bear the words, “Cunningham Restaurant Group.” So many locals assume the sleek, modern Indian Hills restaurant is allied with the rustic and laid-back fried fish house on Harrod’s Creek.

“I don’t want to sound critical of that restaurant at all, but I do want to make clear that we’re not connected in any way,” Cunningham said.

Why’s this a big deal? Simple. Because more CRG restaurants are planned for Louisville, and Cunningham wants to make every effort to differentiate his brand from the historic local Cunningham’s going forward.

Susan Seiller | Courtesy of Susan Seiller
Susan Seiller | Courtesy of Susan Seiller

Susan Seiller lands at St. Catharine College: Can’t say I saw this coming! Susan Seiller, one of Louisville’s most venerable restaurateurs, is now director for dining services at St. Catharine College in St. Catherine, Ky. If you’re not familiar with the location, it’s southeast of Bardstown near Springfield.

Seiller, the popular hands-on owner of Jack Fry’s from 1986 to 2007, will oversee the foodservice operation on the 750-student campus. The college and Jack Fry’s do share some similarities: Both are located on Bardstown Road and both serve food, but that’s it. Seiller will doubtless add some new similarities by giving St. Catharine’s food her own twist, and my hunch is she’ll draw on what she learned with her most recent restaurant, Relish.

That restaurant closed in 2014 after an 18-month run. Its healthful, vibrant cuisine was a hit with patrons, but the restaurant’s inability to secure a liquor license did little for repeat visits. Onerous overhead only worsened the situation.

Expect a follow-up blog with the lady herself next month.

Casa Grisanti omission from “Lost Restaurants” book: Local restaurant enthusiasts need to show some mercy to Stephen Hacker and wife Michelle Turner, co-authors of the new book “Lost Restaurants of Louisville.” There’s been a bit of carping online over the deliberate omission of Casa Grisanti from the book, as well as some questions about their knowledge of the local scene regarding the perceived oversight.

Long story short is the couple is more than familiar with Casa Grisanti, but they were told to leave it out of the book by their publisher, History Press (now Arcadia Press).

Why leave out the most influential restaurant in the city’s history? Because Arcadia Press wants a book on that restaurant alone, so it insisted they sidestep it altogether.

Debate over the wisdom of that decision all you like, but don’t blame Hacker and Turner. It wasn’t their call.

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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.