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peach mint julep.jpeg Photo courtesy of 8up
Louisville's 8up Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen is featuring dinner services and exclusive cocktail parties for the Kentucky Derby.

Louisville restaurants prepare for the Kentucky Derby influx

Most establishments beef up their staffing levels as they prepare to double and triple their sales this weekend.

It’s been about 10 years since I transplanted to Louisville from Northwest Ohio and what I can tell you about my “newish” city is this – few things matter more here than the Kentucky Derby.

The most famous horse race in the world hosted on the most famous horse track in the world typically draws more than 16 million TV viewers globally on the first Saturday of May each year and brings about 150,000 spectators to Churchill Downs. During Derby weekend, the bourbon flows as swiftly as the cash – this year’s purse for the Derby race alone is expected to be about $3 million.

But for us Louisvillians (even us transplants), the Kentucky Derby is more than just the “fastest 2 minutes in sports” with the sexy allure of lady luck. It is nearly a month of revelry that kicks off with the largest fireworks display in North America and continues with a food truck festival and a Derby-themed marathon/half marathon and a parade and a whole bunch of special events and races at Churchill Downs. It is a chance to showcase our city, our hospitality and our “Southern charm,” if you will.

It's also a hugely impactful for the city and the entire state of Kentucky, bringing in an estimated $400 million to the local economy. Derby day alone makes up for over $360 million of that. For context, that’s more than is what brought in to the city throughout the duration of the year.

Restaurants tend to be major beneficiaries of these tourism dollars, and several establishments have rolled out the red carpet accordingly. Take Repeal, for instance, an oak-fired steakhouse in Louisville’s Whiskey Row neighborhood downtown. The restaurant launched specialty menu items ahead of this weekend, like Wagyu beef flights and caviar service and, for the first time since 2019, Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash. This is the fourth Michter’s Celebration release and there are just 328 bottles in the world, the restaurant notes.

8up Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen, located in Louisville’s entertainment district, has featured special dinner services and exclusive cocktail parties all week. Like many local concepts, 8up is beefing up its employee roster to support the high volumes expected Derby weekend.

“We require additional staff throughout the entire week of Derby. It’s truly an all-hands-on-deck event, culminating on the main event day Saturday,” said Daniel Py, VP of food and beverage at parent company First Hospitality.

Concepts like Big Bad Breakfast and LouVino also nearly double their employees during Derby weekend, according to Louisville Business First.

This traffic of course translates to big sales. Bearno’s, a downtown pizza concept, experienced a 15% sales lift during Derby weekend 2019, for instance. 8up typically generates between $15,000 and $25,000 in sales on an average day, depending on the time of year. Py said Derby Saturday more than triples its sales, with averages in mid-$80,000 range.

It’s work, but it’s a windfall, and Louisville restaurants are ready to embrace it year after year.

“We are committed to providing exceptional service and a memorable experience during this exciting time,” Py said. “As a local business, we take pride in contributing to the success of Derby weekend and supporting the community. We look forward to welcoming visitors and locals alike and providing them with an unforgettable experience.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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