Sometimes the stomach wants what the stomach wants. So it was for Billy and Elizabeth Rapaport, who live in Los Angeles but also spend time in Louisville.
When a friend suggested the Rapaports try an L.A. eatery called Top Round Roast Beef, the couple had no idea they were about to be hooked. Some three years later, they now own the first franchise location — which opens next week in St. Matthews — but also have an agreement to open four more stores in Kentucky.
This means that when the Rapaports are traveling to Louisville, they won’t have to miss out on the sandwiches, french fries and desserts they crave.
“I would literally bring sandwiches on the plane to Louisville,” Billy says.
The restaurant, which has a quaint, throwback diner vibe outfitted in red and bright orange, focuses on its array of slow-roasted beef sandwiches and also offers chicken sandwiches and hot dogs.
The focus, according to co-founder Steven Fretz, is on quality, with nothing — other than the frozen custard desserts — ever finding its way into a freezer.
“We push quality above everything,” he says, taking a break from helping out kitchen staff during a soft open this week. Fretz and his co-founders all spent years in the fine-dining segment before opening Top Round.
Fretz says price point reflects the quality; for a sandwich, hand-cut fries and a drink, the total will climb just above $10. But he notes that everything is house-made and cooked to order, including the fries. Top Round even takes great pride in the bread on which the sandwiches are served.
“We wanted to be as cheap as In-N-Out Burger, but we realized because of the price point on our beef, it wasn’t possible,” he adds, noting that after nine months of losing money, the prices were raised. The restaurant in L.A. flourished at the new price points, and the Rapaports became the first franchise owners. More franchises will follow in San Francisco, Dallas, Austin and elsewhere.
Billy Rapaport, who, along with his wife works in TV and film production and runs the My Derby Love website, remembers well the first time they tried a Top Round Roast Beef sandwich.
“My head just exploded,” he says. “We both took a bite of the sandwich at the same time, then looked at each other and said, ‘Are you tasting what I’m tasting?’ We basically ate them for the next three years.”
Featured menu items include a variety of roast beef sandwiches on butter-toasted buns, including one topped with homemade cheese “wizz”; a barbecue version with fried onion and jalapeno straws and Provel cheese; a Beef on Weck that features “atomic horseradish”; and the Horse & Hole, with Provel cheese, roasted mushrooms and horseradish cream.
There also are a pair of chicken sandwiches: the original with pickles and mayo, and a “Cali” version that is fully dressed and includes avocado. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk and pickle juice.
The menu includes several hot dog choices, and the skin-on curly fries can be ordered covered with a variety of toppings, including gravy. For vegetarians, there’s a grilled cheese sandwich, a veggie “Cali,” and a crunchy kale slaw.
The 1,700-square-foot restaurant seats 42 and will be open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. beginning Wednesday, Aug. 16. It is located at 4214 Shelbyville Road in the former home of Long John Silver’s, near Hubbards Lane.
Meanwhile, don’t be surprised to run into the Rapaports if you try Top Round Roast Beef. Billy will continue beating the drum for the restaurant, probably even more so now that he and Elizabeth are investors.
“Food is a very spiritual thing,” he says. “When you’ve got the right kind of connection to something and get a chance to do something like this, it’s a very positive thing. We quite literally put our money where our mouths are.”