National Provisions gives Lexington food scene a new flair

December 9, 2013

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Owner Andrea Sims works behind the counter at National Boulangerie, a bakery that opened last week at the corner of National and Walton Avenues. Sims, an artist, and her husband, restaurant veteran Krim Boughalem, are renovating the former industrial building into sophisticated space with an open feel.  Photos by Tom Eblen

 

When Andrea Sims moved back to Lexington from New York City with her French husband, Krim Boughalem, they made waves in the local food scene by opening Wine + Market in 2008 and Table Three Ten in 2010.

Their latest venture could be more like a tsunami.

National Boulangerie, a French-inspired bakery, opened last week at the corner of National and Walton avenues. Within six months, they plan to build out the rest of their 16,000-square-foot space with a brasserie restaurant, wine shop, beer garden, grocery and oyster bar under the umbrella name National Provisions.

“Wine + Market was a perfect start for what we want to do, but the space was too small,” Boughalem said. “This is the same thing on a much bigger scale.”

The couple’s goal is to replicate aspects of traditional French cuisine and food systems, but give them a distinctly Kentucky flavor. Through volume buying, doing all of their own cooking and managing the synergies of each business to reduce waste, they hope to keep food quality high and prices affordable.

“We would like to make everything from scratch here, with ingredients from local farmers,” Sims said. “We’re trying to get back to the old-fashioned idea of food.”

131203Boulangerie0078Plans include brewing small batches of their own beer for the beer garden. The wine shop will include a tap so customers can bring their own containers to fill. Boughalem also plans to sell seafood wholesale to other restaurants.

“A traditional French brasserie has a theme, the region where it is located,” he said. “Our theme will be the Bluegrass, so we will mix French bread and pastries with biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings.”

National Provisions is housed in a turn-of-the-century industrial building the couple has leased long-term from Walker Properties, which is redeveloping National Avenue as mixed-use commercial zone. This building’s previous uses included a bottling plant and tile shop.

“We had noticed the building driving by and just loved it,” Sims said. “When it came available, we had just opened Table Three Ten and weren’t even settled in there. But we went ahead and got it because the building and location were just perfect for us.”

Only minutes from downtown, National Provisions is nestled between the increasingly affluent Bell Court, Mentelle and Kenwick neighborhoods and the busy corridor where Midland Avenue becomes Winchester Road.

Boughalem, 47, who had nearly two decades of restaurant experience in New York and London before moving to Lexington, spent two years scouring eBay and auctions for used restaurant equipment and fixtures.

The couple has assembled a huge commercial kitchen that will be the engine of their enterprise. Brian Surbaugh, executive chef at Table Three Ten, heads a five-person staff that is getting the kitchen up and running.

Sims, 44, redesigned the cavernous building into elegantly casual space with an open floor plan and lots of natural light. Red steel frames of glass will divide the beer garden and wine shop — and give patrons a full view of the kitchen.

The bakery’s exposed ceiling beams have been painted bright red. Counters and tables were made from pink Norwegian marble bought at a bargain price. Sims spent countless hours painting a faux-marble finish on the walls — an old-world skill she learned while studying art in France.

A year after opening Table Three Ten on West Short Street at Cheapside, the couple sold Wine + Market, at the corner of West Second and Jefferson streets, to Renee and Seth Brewer, who also own the nearby Enoteca wine bar. Boughalem and Sims plan to keep Table Three Ten.

National Boulangerie is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Once the restaurant, beer garden and wine shop open, operating hours will extend to midnight.

The market will be the most unusual aspect of the couple’s plan. They expect it to open by late spring, selling fresh local meat and produce, fresh seafood and European cheeses, meats and specialty foods.

Boughalem and Sims think they will find plenty of customers, thanks to the growing popularity of fresh, local food and TV cooking shows that are turning more people into “foodies.”

The market also will offer prepared, ready-to-eat meals, which Boughalem thinks will appeal to people who want gourmet food but lack the time or skill to prepare it. “People are getting used to buying more quality,” he said. “For many, good food is a luxury they can afford.”

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Holidays a good time to give thanks for local businesses

November 26, 2012

Let us now give thanks for Kentucky’s locally owned businesses.

Yes, I know Thanksgiving was last week. But the holiday season is a good time to acknowledge, appreciate and patronize Kentucky companies and those special mom-and-pop shops.

I was reminded of this Wednesday when our younger daughter came home from New York City for the holiday. Shannon wanted to be met with fresh doughnuts from Spalding’s Bakery.

On her way in from Louisville, where a friend picked her up at the airport, she was stopping at Rebecca Ruth Candies outside Frankfort to get bourbon balls. They would be dessert after we went for lunch at Bourbon n’ Toulouse.

Late that afternoon, Shannon wanted me to take her to West Sixth Brewing Co. Another day, I said, we need to go to Country Boy Brewing. But if there isn’t time this trip, there’s usually Kentucky Ale in the refrigerator. Thanks to Lexington’s many fine new brewers, plus places such as The Beer Trappe and Lexington Beerworks, there’s no excuse for drinking commodity beer.

That discussion led to plans for Saturday morning breakfast from North Lime Coffee & Donuts. That new business was just getting ready to open the last time Shannon was in town, and the owners gave us samples from their test run.

Lexington has so many great places to eat, it’s no wonder I have to put in a couple of thousand miles a year on my bicycles to keep from getting fatter than I am.

I live within a short walk or bike ride of Spalding’s and Magee’s bakeries. When I drive to Versailles, my car seems to steer itself into Doughdaddy’s. And I can never go to Danville without picking up a bag of gingerbread men from Burke’s Bakery.

I rise before dawn a couple of mornings each week from late spring until mid-fall for a 25-mile bike ride with friends, followed by a country-ham biscuit and coffee at Windy Corner Market. No ride to Midway is complete without lunch at Wallace Station, just as Rick’s White Light Diner is a must-stop on a ride to Frankfort.

Other lunch favorites include Mr. Kabab, Stella’s Deli, Natasha’s, Charlie’s Seafood (home of Lexington’s biggest and best fried fish sandwich), Ramsey’s and Bangkok House. Most of the owners know me; some even recognize my voice when I call in takeout orders.

Nobody makes a better $3 sandwich than Wilson’s Grocery & Meats. And I’m constantly finding great new food trucks. (Lexington needs to make it easier to patronize food trucks; they don’t so much compete with restaurants as create a more dynamic food scene that attracts more patrons to all eating establishments.)

When it comes to dinner, Lexington has so many great restaurants it takes us forever to make the rounds to them all: Grey Goose, Dudley’s, Nick Ryan’s, Joe Bologna’s, Pazzo’s, Table Three Ten, Portofino, Goodfellas, Jonathan’s, Mary Lou’s BBQ, Yamamoto, Rincon, Mi Pequeña Hacienda, Billy’s Bar-B-Q and Sal’s Chophouse. I’m sure I’m leaving out a dozen others.

In the grander scheme of eating and drinking, Kentucky is blessed with many local farms, vineyards, bourbon distilleries and country ham processors. Plus local farmers markets and retailers such as Good Foods, Corner Wine, Liquor Barn, Wines on Vine and Wine + Market.

Aside from food, local businesses offer Kentuckians goods and services that the big national chains can’t match.

While renovating an old house this past year, I became a regular at every home-improvement store in town. But I finally discovered that if Chevy Chase Hardware doesn’t have it, I probably don’t need it.

I take my dry cleaning to Sonny’s in Chevy Chase, alterations to the Button Hole. My cars have kept running thanks to Lowell’s, Georgia’s Service Center and B&W Automotive. Then I think about all of the local book stores, florists, repair shops, contractors and tradesmen too numerous to mention that I have patronized in recent years.

I’m sure you have a similar list of local businesses for which you are thankful. If you want to share them, leave a comment.

Happy holidays.


Lexington’s last hardware store survives on customer service

August 27, 2012

Bill Edwards, left, owner of Chevy Chase Hardware, helps Bill Mallory, who lives in Harrison County but stopped in on his way to a fishing trip to get a few nuts and lock washers. Mallory said he has been shopping with Edwards since he opened his first hardware store on Centre Parkway in 1975. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

When Bill Edwards opened his first hardware store 37 years ago, Lexington was a small city with more traditional hardware stores than he could count on both hands.

Now Lexington is much bigger, but Edwards needs only one finger to count them. He says his Chevy Chase Hardware is the last one.

Ace Hardware in Tates Creek Center closed this spring, followed recently by Do it Best Hardware in Palomar Center. Others disappeared years ago. High rent and competition from big-box chains have taken their toll.

In fact, Edwards thinks his business would have been history 12 years ago had he not moved to East High Street from Richmond Road, where he had been for 20 years. Within months of each other, Home Depot and Lowe’s opened stores near his.

“We might have been able to survive one of them, but not two,” Edwards said. “We work with a much smaller profit margin than most businesses because we carry a large inventory of slow-selling items.”

Edwards said his store has always done well in the Chevy Chase building, which earlier housed hardware stores run by Wilson Cox and Dick Botkin. The area of small, mostly local retailers is an easy drive, walk or bike ride from in-town neighborhoods such as Chevy Chase, Ashland Park, Hollywood, Columbia Heights, Mentelle and Kenwick.

“This is a unique neighborhood, very supportive of local businesses,” Edwards said. “That’s a different attitude than we had at the other locations. It’s almost like being in another town.”

But Edwards credits his success to more than location. He said other keys to operating a good hardware store are selection, competitive prices and, most of all, customer service. At Chevy Chase Hardware, that includes everything from fixing lawn mowers and screens to sharpening tools, cutting glass and copying keys.

“Everybody’s so friendly,” said Debbie Chamblin, who usually walks over with her dog from her home on Ashland Avenue. One morning last week, she came in to buy a few things and pick up hedge trimmers she had left for sharpening.

“Just anything you need, they’re ready and willing to help you,” Chamblin said. “They’ll even help me fix things.”

Bill Mallory has been shopping with Edwards since he opened his first store on Centre Parkway in 1975.

“The nice thing here is you just tell the people what you need and they go right to it and get it for you,” said Mallory, who now lives in Harrison County but stopped in for a few nuts and lock washers on his way to fish.

Edwards stocks more than 20,000 items in his 4,400 square feet of retail space, which has been expanded several times since the first hardware store opened there in 1946. He carries many hard-to-find items.

“If it’s a slow-moving item that doesn’t generate a lot of profit, they just won’t carry it,” he said of his big-box competitors.

Because his store is part of a national buying group, Edwards said, he can match most competitors’ prices, except for some big-ticket items.

“We check Lowe’s and Home Depot to make sure we are in line,” he said. “Sometimes we’re actually less than they are. We can’t compete on everything, but we can certainly keep it reasonable enough to not offend anybody.”

Hands-on management is key. Edwards works the floor six days a week, constantly straightening shelves when he isn’t helping customers. His wife and co-owner, Carol, a former elementary school teacher, manages the office. They will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in February.

Chevy Chase Hardware has 11 employees, many of whom are college students or recent graduates. And then there is Luther Hilliard, 87, a longtime employee who now works a couple of days a week repairing screens.

“I don’t know what I would do if I just had to sit around and not work,” said Hilliard, who retired from the insurance business. “There’s nothing on TV.”

Edwards said he thought for years about opening a store on Leestown Road around Meadowthorpe, an area with qualities similar to Chevy Chase, but he could never find an affordable place to buy or rent. High rents are a big reason many hardware stores have closed in Lexington but remain in surrounding towns.

“We’re fine if we can keep our rent under control,” said Edwards, 63, who has tried unsuccessfully to buy his building. “We have seven years left on the lease, and I might be ready to quit by then.”

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