Question: Who’s the smartest person in this trio: cyclist Lance Armstrong, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o or Lynn’s Paradise Café owner Lynn Winter?

Answer: Lynn Winter, because she has the sense to keep her mouth shut before the press.

In a week when Lance Armstrong loosed his lying tongue and Manti Te’o lacquered his loony “girlfriend hoax” story with even more questionable quotes, Winter shut down her uber-busy, 22-year-old, nationally recognized restaurant last Friday, saying it was time for a new chapter in her life.

That’s it. Bye-bye, restaurant that does $4 million a year in sales.

Disconnect the giant coffee pot, unplug the hundred tacky lamps and shut down the World of Swirl.

Overnight.

Dismiss 85 employees without notice, sever food and beverage purveyor pipelines accounting for millions in sales and obliterate two decades of hard-earned image crafting.

Through a news release.

And then head to the bunker, where, according to friends, Winter expects to stay for some time as she dismantles what is arguably Louisville’s most famous restaurant.

Much as her silence frustrates the journalist in me, the still small voice in my head says, “Smart lady. I wouldn’t talk to you either, my man.”

Not if she were in trouble, anyway. And that’s what some suspect is why loquacious Lynn has zipped her lips. They say surely she’s done something so horribly wrong that she had no other choice than to close her crazy creation.

What would that offense be?

I honestly have no clue.

Staffers have complained for years that working for Winter is no day in paradise, and their post-closing outpouring of rage on social media sites has made for truly R-rated reading.

But since employee griping is nothing truly new—it’s why we have corner bars, right?—I doubt their disappointment is the whole issue.

Would the potential fallout that might have resulted from the termination of server Leila DiFazio crush a successful restaurant and its strong-willed owner so quickly?

On the surface, at least to me, it doesn’t seem likely since it’s just one employee.

Were others who were previously fired massing to press their complaints? If so, it’s unlikely they could unify so quickly since DiFazio was fired on Jan. 2 and Winter closed the joint on Jan. 11.

Was it because Service Workers for Justice threatened to launch a protest in front of her restaurant?

Seriously doubtful. Crossing that picket line would be about as risky as bypassing the Girl Scout Cookie gauntlet at Kroger each spring.

Or did Winter, as a lot of people suspect, just get fed up with the headaches and hassles of the restaurant business and say, “To hell with it all! I’m outta here!”

Definitely possible. I hear this sentiment all too regularly from veteran operators who are tired of making so little for working so hard and investing so much. Twenty years ago, when Winter got into the game, good restaurateurs made good livings. Not so much now.

Regardless of the reason, the net effect of losing Lynn’s Paradise Café is profound:

  • A few million dollars in sales for food and beverage suppliers just evaporated.
  • Eighty-five people are looking for work.
  • Local tour companies just lost a destination stop and the businesses surrounding Lynn’s don’t get the overflow traffic coming from the restaurant’s waiting customers.
  • Mayor Greg Fisher (or one of his staffers) tweeted his lament that Lynn’s had closed and that he wanted people to tweet back their favorite memories. (Really? He should have tweeted “Oh! My! Gosh! We just lost tax revenue on a $4 million restaurant!”)
  • Lazy out of town journalists will now have to look beyond tired, LPC-topped “best of” lists for their equally tedious “Top Ten Reasons to Eat in Louisville Though I’ve Never Been There” stories.
  • The local restaurant scene lost its best example of funky-freaky feng shui.

Equally discussed is the possibility that Winter pulled the plug on Lynn’s so she could do a restaurant reboot.

I suppose that’s possible, too, given that she’s proven herself a brand building genius and an exceptionally clever and a capable restaurateur.

But certainly not in Louisville, America’s Biggest Small Town. That’s a trick you can’t pull when the collapse of your first restaurant evoked a soap-opera of turmoil and angst that may well make outsiders think, “No way in hell am I working for a restaurant!”

And certainly not when you terminate 85 employees in one fell swoop. Any way you look at it, the heat is on Winter—for being as cold as her name implies—to her staff. That alone might be an unpardonable sin in this closely knit and highly communicative community.

Yeah, Winter’s smart for laying low and keeping quiet. Too bad Armstrong and Te’o aren’t so shrewd.

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.

5 thoughts on “The question that won't die: Why did Lynn Winter close Lynn’s Paradise Café?

  1. Letting each draw their own conclusions solely based on the rants from rightfully disgruntled employees is smart? She’s done herself and her reputation a lot more harm than good by not handling this in a more professional way. At least locally. And her press release was so self-centered, it was like something you’d expect from a resigning coach. Although the main difference between the two would be that if Rick Pitino up and quit, there’d still be a team. Lynn apparently took her toys and went home.

    One other possibility that you did not list as a reason is this: she is extending a big middle finger towards her employees. “You don’t like the way I do business? F*** you, now no one has a job.”

    The longer she remains silent, the pettier the closing seems.

  2. Letting each draw their own conclusions solely based on the rants from rightfully disgruntled employees is smart? She’s done herself and her reputation a lot more harm than good by not handling this in a more professional way. At least locally. And her press release was so self-centered, it was like something you’d expect from a resigning coach. Although the main difference between the two would be that if Rick Pitino up and quit, there’d still be a team. Lynn apparently took her toys and went home.

    One other possibility that you did not list as a reason is this: she is extending a big middle finger towards her employees. “You don’t like the way I do business? F*** you, now no one has a job.”

    The longer she remains silent, the pettier the closing seems.

  3. Yeah I get the impression Steve is still defending her by saying “having the sense to keep her mouth shut”. It is true in many cases, but not this one. That is unless you having nothing to say that’s going to help you, and in fact bury yourself. I get the feeling the closing was a mixture of spite and rule breaking brought to light by an employee who had the guts to expose it. Most people won’t speak up because they are afraid they will have problems securing another position. Sad thing is I think many people might be surprised at how many small businesses take shortcuts to stay in business, so in fairness Lynn Winter is not alone by any means.

  4. Yeah I get the impression Steve is still defending her by saying “having the sense to keep her mouth shut”. It is true in many cases, but not this one. That is unless you having nothing to say that’s going to help you, and in fact bury yourself. I get the feeling the closing was a mixture of spite and rule breaking brought to light by an employee who had the guts to expose it. Most people won’t speak up because they are afraid they will have problems securing another position. Sad thing is I think many people might be surprised at how many small businesses take shortcuts to stay in business, so in fairness Lynn Winter is not alone by any means.

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