J.D. Rothberg and Shane Hall, co-owners of Wild Eggs, are serious about breakfast. To date, Wild Eggs has cracked six million eggs. The duo’s restaurants go through 6,240 gallons of orange juice a year. They just opened three more restaurants — a Wild Eggs downtown at Mercantile Lofts on Floyd Street, a location in Lexington, and a new upscale Mexican place, Wild Rita’s (445 E. Market St.) — in two weeks.
Rothberg and Hall were co-owners of Napa River Grill in 2004 when they got the idea for Wild Eggs. “It was about three years from the time we started scribbling stuff down to the time we opened,” Hall says, adding that they wanted to create an upscale breakfast experience that you couldn’t get at Cracker Barrel or Denny’s. The first location (3985 Dutchmans Lane) opened on a Tuesday morning in 2007. Right across the street from a Denny’s, actually. It was almost instantly a success.
They opened their second location of Wild Eggs two years later in Westport Village, and then a third in Middletown. “We honestly never knew it would be as successful as it’s turned out,” Hall says. Loyal customers sometimes wait 45 minutes to get a table. When they do sit down, they order dishes like the Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict — two green chile-Cheddar corn cakes, topped with chorizo and poached eggs — and the bananas Foster waffle — topped with bananas, rum-caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.
Now Rothberg and Hall want to go national with their concept, although — beyond the franchise they opened in Rothberg’s hometown of Denver in 2011 — nothing is imminent. Still, after selling Napa River Grill in 2012, it’s an interesting move that the two are getting back into the dinner game with Wild Rita’s. It’s only natural, Rothberg says: “After 30 years of working nights, I go home at 6 o’clock and I’m lost.”
Besides authentic Mexican dishes like molcajete stew, they want Wild Rita’s to be known for drinks and atmosphere. “I’ve told my guys that we have to be known for the best margarita in Louisville,” Rothberg says. “If we’re known for that, then we’ve done our job.” As for the colorful, Mexican-inspired decor, Rothberg says: “When was the last time you said, ‘Hey, where do you want to go to dinner? Let’s pick some place really down, dreary and kind of depressing’?”
Rothberg and Hall estimate that they work between 55 and 70 hours a week, a necessity to achieve their goals. “People can make good food at home,” Rothberg says, “but we want them to wake up in the morning and go, ‘You know what, we got to go to Wild Rita’s tonight because I have to have that.’ It’s that taste and that flavor that, you’ve got to have it; you can’t do it at home and nobody else has it.”
Photos Courtesy Mickie Winters