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    Eat & Swig

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    How could a restaurant like Loop 22 fail to be successful (long-term) in a town like Louisville? It had all the ingredients to succeed in Louisville’s culinary dish: a well-credentialed team (Chase Mucerino, Adam Burress and Eric Morris), a trendy area of town, (Douglass Loop) and a meat-focused menu featuring “locally sourced” fare. There was even a Sunday brunch and some cool art on the wall, people, why didn’t you go to this restaurant?

    Actually, you did go to this restaurant. As chef and part-owner of Loop 22 Eric Morris admits, “Loop was sustaining just fine. We were paying our bills, we were paying employees, we had a great Derby weekend, we just got a mention in Travel and Leisure. There was nothing bad going on with it.”

    The demise of Loop 22, though sad, is actually a sign of culinary progress for Louisville. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s a positive move for everyone.” Morris says. “With the location, and the parking being kind of tough…it wasn’t that we were doing anything wrong, it’s just that the concept [of Loop 22] was very food-driven, and it takes an army of people to run.”

     

    The Location:

    The building, at 2222 Dundee Rd. is undoubtedly the most practical reason for the closure of Loop 22: the opening of the restaurant was delayed by burst pipes, it's located off the main drag of the Highlands, and parking is tight.

    Morris, who sold his portion of this business to Adam Burress and Chase Murcerino, said his concept for Loop 22 was perhaps not quite right for the location, but assures me that Buress and Murcerino have plans for the space. “They already have their concept, they already have it mapped out, and they’re bringing on some really awesome people.” Morris says, “It gets them back to the dynamic duo of Adam and Chase, and they can do no wrong. I think they’re going to be doing something great.” Before opening Loop 22, Buress and Murcerino opened Hammerheads and Game, both still in operation.

     

    The Concept/Quality Conundrum:

    Morris seems almost pre-nostalgic about the closure of Loop 22. “Loop was my baby, it was my concept. We cook with everything made from scratch, literally everything, and that makes for long hours and long days. It makes things tough. But once you set those kinds of standards it’s hard to stray from them.”

    The question then is: how to you consistently wow the public while maintaining an upward trajectory that began at the height of standard? How to you consistently improve ad infinitm when the bar is set incredibly high before your restaurant opens? The starting menu, focused on rotisserie-cooked poultry, was delicious, innovative, and certainly expensive to produce. Through the 18 months they were open, Loop 22 added a Sunday brunch service (often a big moneymaker), held “Whiskey Wednesday” promotions (what better way to get Louisvillians to your restaurant than $2 bourbon?) and tried a variety of menu changes.

    It sometimes seems that when you stray from your vision in this business, the public will close you (“their food was so good when they opened, but now they’re just boring.”) When you refuse to stray from your vision in this business, your own payroll will kill you. Morris says, “the hardest part for me is just losing the staff. You develop relationships with these people…I worked really hard at Loop, and it was the first restaurant I was able to open so it has a very close place in my heart, but at the same time, when you spend 70 hours a week in a place…it’s more bittersweet. But it’s a big weight off my back. Once it’s done I’ll be sad but it’s moving forward in the right direction.

    To be honest, I’m already beyond the point of burned out,” Morris admits. “It’s a very smart move. “

     

    The Chef:

    Morris’ next venture is a partnership with three guys with whom he’s already in business: Dustin Staggers, Griffin Paulin, and Ethan Ray, of the Ten Tables dining club“With Ten Tables I’ve realized…when you put the four of us together in a room, and we’re all working on one dish, it’s like, incredible. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to be around, and with these guys, it really brings the excitement back into cooking,” Morris says.

    The guys involved with Ten Tables have been praised for their willingness to partner up and do awesome things for Louisville’s foodie scene. All four chefs (Staggers and Ray of Roux, Paulin of Rumplings) have spoken about how their involvement with Ten Tables invigorates their love for cooking. Paulin said Ten Tables is special because “we don’t have to get roped in or burned out. It’s kind of like recess. It’s the most fun part of the job.” That newfound, (or recovered) excitement shows in Morris’ voice when he talks about the next few months.

    “I had some offers from some big people,” he hints. The opportunity he’s pursuing in partnership with Staggers, Paulin and Ray is “probably the most risky of them all, because I’m going to be an owner again. But I think that when you do that [own a restaurant at which you are also chef] the passion is so much more. You’re there because you’re creating, and it’s fun. Those guys get that.”

    As for the Ten Tables venue, which has been Loop 22, Staggers and Morris both said the weekly dinners would be moved to The Monkey Wrench for a few weeks, and then find a permanent home in the recently-opened Eggs Over Baxter at 962 Baxter Avenue.

     

    Farewell to Loop 22:

    Loop 22’s last day of dinner service will be May 23. “We’re going to go as hard as we can until then. We’re going to act like this is normal and have a blast while we’re doing it,” says Morris.

    Though certainly it’s sad to see Loop 22 exit the building, this closure is a good sign for Louisville’s culinary landscape. It is perhaps this underlying willingness to change that makes the restaurant industry in this town so wonderful. The drive to innovate, the willingness to try again, the ability to just roll with it: all of these lead to growth and prosperity, in the restaurant business, and in this city.

    And, in the words of Eric Morris, “We’ll have a lot more news for you all in the upcoming months.”

    Cover image courtesy of Chris Witzke for Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. All other images courtesy of Loop 22 and Eric Morris

    Elizabeth Myers's picture

    About Elizabeth Myers

    Big fan of bacon and bourbon, deep fried anything, sweet tea and sweet nothings.

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