In 2014, Chad and Lauren Coulter opened LouVino, a wine-centric, small plates concept in Louisville, Ky. By 2019, the couple had five LouVinos in four cities, and were preparing to open Biscuit Belly, a fast-casual breakfast-brunch concept. For two pharmacists with no restaurant experience, their success is remarkable in the hyper-competitive restaurant world. Here’s how they got started.
What made you think Louisville and other cities needed a wine-centric restaurant concept?
At the time, we owned two Uptown Art spots, where people came and painted and drank wine. We noticed we were selling a lot of wine. Albeit not very good wine, but a lot of it. So, we looked around the city and were surprised to find there really wasn’t a wine-centric place. There were restaurants with incredible wine lists, but they weren’t doing what we had in mind.
So what did that mean, exactly?
LouVino’s slogan is “Big wines, small plates.” Other than some shareable platters, we serve small plates only. We also serve several wine flights: three small glasses of wines we think go well together; every flight also has a themed name. Our staff is really knowledgeable and skilled at pairing those flights with food. Of course, they can buy single glasses or bottles.
You and your wife are pharmacists by trade. What did you know about the restaurant business?
Not a lot, frankly, but that didn’t stop us from recognizing a need in the community. We did our research going in, and we started talking to people who were in the business or who knew about it. We did a lot of that.
How did you choose your first location?
The neighborhood where we wanted to go, the Highlands in Louisville, is super popular for restaurants and bars. But the laws require specific distances between bars. And in that neighborhood, it’s practically impossible to put in a new bar without violating the rules. So, we said (sarcastically), “OK, we’ll do a restaurant I guess, too, and make it really fun!” But that’s what we had to do to get that location.
We bought the building, which, on the lower floor, allowed space for two restaurants (the second is currently rented by a burger concept). There also are three apartments above us we rent. The mortgage for the building was the same as what rent would have been, so it was a no brainer to have something that was generating income instead of sucking it up.
How did you fund the start up?
Mostly from the profits (of the sale of) from Uptown Art. We didn’t do a construction loan, but looking back, maybe that might have been a good decision because that first building had a lot of problems. We had to cancel our (pre-opening) media night because sewage was coming out of our back patio. We rushed to have a sewer line redone that weekend so we could get open for actual business the following Tuesday.
The previous owners didn’t have grease trap, and overall the condition of the place was pretty scary. The smell of it … it was just awful. When Lauren and I were in Barcelona, we smelled that same smell and joked, “Maybe this is what the previous owners were going for, this authentic smell!” We wound up having to redo the plumbing.
Thankfully, and despite the problems at the start, business took off once we got opened.
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