Jays Cafeteria

Jay’s Cafeteria, located at 1812 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., will be transformed into Chef Space, which is set to open in late October. | Photos courtesy of Community Ventures

When Chef Space, the new kitchen incubator project by Community Ventures Corporation, opens in October, it will be a place where budding culinary entrepreneurs can cut their teeth and learn about business. But it will also kick off what the nonprofit agency hopes will be the the first phase of a major neighborhood revitalization in Russell.

Located in the 13,000-square-foot space that was previously home to Jay’s Cafeteria, a popular neighborhood eatery on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard, Chef Space aspires to do more than simply serve the would-be chefs, caterers, bakers and restaurateurs within, but to also serve the community for the long haul.

Chef Space president Johnetta Roberts tells Insider the venture will focus on “concentrated change, which means, block by block, you can drive through Russell and see visible change. We’re one of few nonprofits who currently have the capital to do that.”

The entrepreneurs who inhabit the 50 spaces inside Chef Space will be vital to the mission. Roberts points to people like Paula Hunter, who runs a business called Black Italian Griglia Cucina that does both grilled meats and homemade pastas and sauces. Hunter buys into the Chef Space mission, Roberts says.

Johnetta Roberts.

Johnetta Roberts

“She is going to take advantage of everything we’re going to make available,” Roberts says. “(Chef Space) has to be integrated with the neighborhood as well as serve the food entrepreneurs, and she gets that.”

What that means is that not only will a chef or caterer have access to a full-service, commercial kitchen plus education and even micro loans to move their business to the next level, but the neighborhood will have a retail space where they could buy, for instance, fresh produce. Or, residents can come in and purchase food from one of the vendors to take home, or to eat there in a designated dining area. (The retail area will be known as Jay’s Café, as a nod to the original neighborhood business.)

The kitchen and dining area also may be home to pop-up restaurants, which not only will give Russell residents access to fresh food but will further help entrepreneurs learn some of the ins and outs of running a restaurant or food truck.

And the hope is that the ripples will spread across the city while also helping to buoy the Russell neighborhood, meaning Louisville’s culinary scene potentially stands to gain from Chef Space as much as the local neighborhood does. Community Ventures offers plenty that can help neighborhoods like Russell flourish, from home loans to home buying and financial education, business loans, foreclosure prevention and more.

A rendering of the future Chef Space.

A rendering of the future Chef Space

Inspired by other kitchen incubators across the U.S., specifically Union Kitchen Food Incubator in Washington, D.C., Chef Space represents a first, big step in that aforementioned broader plan that is being made possible by federal funding as well as the Community Foundation of Louisville, Sam Swope Family Foundation, Kentucky Bank, Kentucky Reinvestment Fund, NeighborWorks America and more.

“By turning this iconic restaurant into a culinary incubator, Chef Space will create new opportunities, promote entrepreneurship and generate business growth to help revitalize the Russell neighborhood,” said Congressman John Yarmuth in a news release.

“Louisville is a hub for food and beverage companies of all sizes,” added Mayor Greg Fischer. “Chef Space will not only play an important role in our city’s vibrant food community, but it will also serve as an incubator to foster entrepreneurs and grow opportunities for small businesses in the Russell neighborhood.”

“Russell is a neighborhood that has had some challenges,” Roberts adds. “There are not a lot of places to go to socialize or to purchase food or goods. We’ve carved out a space to do that. We want this facility to be embraced by all of Louisville. … We should fill this thing up very quickly. Russell could be transformed through food.”

*This story has been updated with an address correction.