bacon-cheeseburgerHere’s proof the better burger trend is as hot and juicy as ever:

This April, Los Angeles-based Stout Burgers & Beers plans to open its fourth location in the space long held by La Bodega, the tapas spot run for a decade by Maggie and Miguel De La Torre at 1604 Bardstown Road.

Though well spaced geographically, SB&B will compete for the same higher-end customer as Grind Burger Kitchen, Game, Sidebar at Whiskey Row, Mussel & Burger Bar and the many restaurants with great house burgers on the menu.

When the De La Torres retired last year, they sold their building (which also housed De La Torre’s  Restaurant at 1606 Bardstown Road) to Chad and Lauren Coulter, who opened their own small plates concept, Louvino, in July.

In addition to leasing SB&B the La Bodega space, the Coulters will invest in the burger concept with owners Philip Camino and Charles Lew. They will not, however, operate it.

“We have a small equity stake in the concept, but it’s not what you’d call a franchisee agreement,” Chad Coulter said.

As Stout’s menu shows, the concept is about custom ground gourmet hamburgers garnished with contemporary ingredients such as rosemary bacon, chipotle sauce, crispy prosciutto and fig jam. There are some non-burger options: a mushroom “burger,” two chicken and two veggie sandwiches, three salads, three sides and two desserts. Less complicated menus are better, Camino said, because they allow cooks to focus on quality, not quantity.

The Louisville restaurant will be the first SB&B providing a full bar along with its customary 30 craft beers.

“We’re excited to be a part of the bourbon and craft beer cultures here,” Camino said, adding that a fifth SB&B will open in Nashville this year. “We think we’ll fit in great because of that.”

The Coulters long believed that renting their space to a restaurant next door would be ideal, though they listened to other offers for the space. One women’s retailer looked promising, especially since Louvino’s customer base is almost 80 percent female, but no deal materialized. An Indianapolis-based Cajun restaurant concept came close to signing a contract before backing out at the last minute. Outside of that, pickings were mostly slim.

“We’ve had so many e-cigarette businesses approach us about the location that we lost count,” Coulter said. “And there was one business that, thinking Kentucky is going to become the next Colorado, was willing to sign a contract and pay rent until pot was legalized here. … We didn’t see that as a good fit for our clientele at Louvino.

“We’re just really happy to have the space rented since, when they open in April, it will be a year after we bought the building. That’s longer than we wanted it to be empty.”

SB&B, as it turned out, was perfect: drawing men for beer and burgers and leaving Louvino to retain its wine-and-small-plates-loving women.

“We see it as kind of a yin and yang thing to have them next door to each other,” Coulter said.

Camino said he and Lew couldn’t believe their luck when they found the vacant spot on the first day of a September fact-finding visit to Louisville. As soon as they saw it, their realtor called the Coulters.

“We had quick walk-through of the building, a quick discussion with Chad that night, and we decided that was the one,” said Camino. Site searches, he said, almost never end quickly. “We asked the Coulters for a few things we needed to occupy the space, and we came to terms quickly. It was a very seamless and painless process.”

Camino said Louisville’s proximity to Kentucky’s hub of bourbon production and its surging craft beer demand were major factors in the decision to settle here. A restaurant-ready location in the heart of the Highlands was an unexpected bonus.

“The city and the neighborhood are perfect for what we do because it’s recognized as a food-centric place in Louisville,” Camino said. Per person check average at the 60-seat SB&B will be about $15. “We feel very fortunate to have that location.”

Not to mention the financial support of several Louisvillians, who also are investing in the business. When he and Lew held a discovery meeting to explain the concept to 20 potential investors, he was amazed at the interest level.

“It gives us a lot of confidence going forward that there’s so much local (financial) support for it,” Camino said. “We’re super excited to have Louisville money in the project.”

Camino said Stout Burgers & Beer is not a pretentious mod-city burger place; it has a relaxed, neighborhood he said is perfect for that stretch of Bardstown Road.

“It’s our goal to integrate ourselves into the neighborhood and make it a place where the bartender knows your name when you come in,” he said. “There’s a lot of attitude at some gourmet burger concepts … . We see that in Los Angeles, and that’s not what we want.”

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.