Lynn’s Paradise Cafe is no more.
The Louisville comfort food stalwart abruptly closed its doors last Friday after 22-years in business.
This was not due to a lack of customers. Lynn’s had a devoted clientele drawn to the shimmering sign outside, the bizarre mish-mash of colors and lights, and eclectic decor.
Instead of the atmosphere feeling contrived, it translated into ambiance, which is no easy feat considering the kitsch-factor on display, but it balanced this with offering solid comfort foot that was southern based.
The Walnut-Crusted Fried Chicken, Mom’s Meatloaf, and the Paradise Hot Brown were menu staples.
Lynn’s on a busy night was a sight to behold. It literally glowed from blocks away.
It was a destination restaurant, a Louisville original, and part of the “Keep Louisville Weird” movement.
Lynn’s annual “Ugly Lamp Contest,” held at the Kentucky State Fair, ensured lighting at the restaurant was never lacking. Contestants could enter in two categories Born Ugly or Made Ugly, and if entrants didn’t want their lamps back they could always go up in the restaurant.
Lynn’s garnered plenty of national press. It was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show; Adam Richman brought his Man v. Food Nation program by to sample the Quadruple “B” French Toast; owner Lynn Winter was on the Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, where she defeated the celebrity chef in a breakfast showdown; and Lynn’s was named “One of the Four Most Fun Restaurants in America” by Esquire magazine.
It was a favorite spot for tourists, out-of-town guests, and locals alike. You couldn’t find a better spot to nurse a hangover than Lynn’s. The biscuits and gravy were substantial, and the bartenders mixed a mean Bloody Mary.
Current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped by Lynn’s while campaigning for president in 2008.
It was a festive place and comfortable, more reliable than ambitious, but that is what made the joint – it delivered when you were in the mood.
After 22 years, the restaurant was an ingrained part of The Highlands neighborhood where it resided, but this begs the question of why did such a popular destination close?
It happened fast. Word didn’t filter out in time to prevent a hungry crowd from showing up outside the restaurant early Saturday morning only to find the parking lot blocked by traffic cones and security guards posted to deter would-be brunchers.
Lynn’s sudden demise came at the hands of a controversial new employee policy that resulted in two workers being fired and hard feelings being felt by many of Winter’s employees.
The policy required waitstaff to bring $100 in cash to work, so servers had available funds to tip the table bussers and bartenders. This new policy dovetailed with another new one, which shifted paying servers’ tips that came via credit cards to their paychecks instead of them being cashed out at the end of their shifts.
Considering the prevalence of credit card payments over cash these days, and the measly amount earned by waitstaff hourly, these new policies put many in a bind.
Allegations of employee mistreatment went public after the two staff members were terminated, leading to a campaign being created by Kentucky Jobs with Justice called Service Workers for Justice.
Sure by not cashing out tips nightly it probably saved the restaurant some time and trouble, but more egregiously it’s possible with these new policy changes that Winter was attempting to lower the amount she had to pay her support staff in total.
Instead of making $7.25 per hour, which is minimum wage, Kentucky’s labor laws allow employers to pay staff $2.13 per hour if an employee makes at least $30 per month in tips.
That decreased hourly amount is standard for waitstaff, as they rely on tips for the majority of their compensation, but this would severely decrease what table bussers and Lynn’s bartenders would make, which in turn would save Lynn Winter money.
The restaurant’s closure has left between 80 and 100 people out of work.
For customers holding gift cards, Lynn’s Paradise Cafe plans to open its “World of Swirl” gift shop one last time according to its Facebook page, to allow for use of existing gift cards or to come in for refunds.
No doubt this is a bittersweet ending for such an esteemed eatery, and one that sounds preemptive. Hopefully this story doesn’t get any darker. In my mind’s eye I see attorneys fluttering around Lynn’s Paradise Cafe like buzzards circling a new-fallen victim.
Still I will toast Lynn’s one last time for the good of the cause and offer it a fond farewell.
984 Barret Avenue | 502-583-3447