Fifteen years ago, remembers Rick Betance, he hired James Lee at Zolo Grill, giving the bartender his first real bar job, a position that would plant the seeds for Lee's rise to mixology stardom. Now, after Betance spent years as an owner and operator of a boutique hotel in the Alaskan wilderness and then time as a multi-unit franchisee for different restaurant chains, the pair is reuniting: Betance is opening La Revolución Taqueria Cantina in Louisville, and he's brought in Lee to consult on the cocktail menu.
And Lee isn't the only Big Red F cohort who's involved in the project. "Dave Query is a mentor to me, so he's looking over stuff, and his chef at Zolo Grill [Brett Smith] is a friend of mine, and I asked if it would be okay if Smitty consulted with me on my menu," says Betance, adding that Query agreed. "I convinced James to do the same thing. I'm working with super talented people to set the bar."
The three are working together to fill out the details of a restaurant that Betance describes as "a simple, soulful Mexican joint," which coincides with Betance's heritage. "I grew up in LA, I'm part Mexican, this is the food I grew up on."
And, he emphasizes, it will be neither a bare-bones taqueria nor an upscale spot. "You seek out hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints for the food, but not so much for the ambiance or bar," he explains. "But if you go to the place with great margaritas or cocktails, it's usually attached to Rick Bayless-style Mexican. I wanted to bring the two together, so I'm channeling street taco taqueria joints, but with a great cocktail program." That means the food and drinks, he says, will be deceptively simple, tacos will be "cheffed up a bit," but still tacos; and the cocktail list will be tequila-focused and well-edited.
La Revolución is going into a corner spot in Louisville that most recently held The Cactus Wheel. "There's been a crazy downtown transformation in Lousiville," he says. "This restaurant opened up a couple years ago at this location. It was a great spot, but it wasn't reaching its potential. I checked with the previous owner to see if he might be willing to let it go, and it worked out."
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Betance kept the bones of the building in place, though he gave it a fresh paint job and changed the design a bit. And he definitely kept the patio. "We have a ridiculously huge patio," he says. "And the bar has three garage door windows that open up, so the bar opens to the patio, too."
Since Betance has so much franchising experience, he also says he's setting the place up for replication. "I think it's a great concept, and I think we can really execute it," he predicts. "But I gotta focus on this place and make it great."
La Revolución is waiting for its final inspections; Betance hopes to open to the public next Thursday.