Bruce Ucán, Mayan Cafe, the first to open in what’s now NuLu.

How crazy hot is NuLu’s restaurant corridor?

Hot enough that Toast on Market owners and management are worried rising real estate values – in the midst of an historic real estate slump – will make it too expensive to stay in the East Market Street corridor just east of downtown.

“In a few years, we’re going to be priced out of the market,” said Toast manager George Morris.

So in August, Toast owners/sisters Amy Wepf and Lisa Wepf will move the 5-year-old restaurant one block to the former Artemisia space at 620 E. Market from 736 E. Market. They’ll have a lease-to-buy option on the new building.

“It’s one of those areas where rents are rising and real estate prices are going to rise, too,” Morris said.

The changes in Nulu have been breathtaking, especially considering the restaurant row started to coalesce when 732 Social opened in September, 2008 during the worst part of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

(Click to enlarge)

Bruce Ucán has three words to describe the Nulu restaurant scene’s most recent 12 months: “It’s gone crazy.”

Three restaurants opened last month alone, noted Ucán, whose Mayan Cafe has been on East Market the longest: Harvest, Please & Thank You Cafe and Ghyslain on Market.

By next fall, there will be at least 11 Nulu restaurants within four blocks, with nine open and two under construction.

“We definitely reached a tipping point in the last six months,” said Anne Shadle, Mayan Cafe general manager.

Without rehashing the whole history of the area, we would be remiss not to mention how Gill and Augusta Holland led a group of investors who recast the area into a creative zone after their $5 million purchases of the Wayside Christian Mission properties in 2008.

The Hollands opened The Green Building as their business headquarters, a LEEDS Platinum-rated building which houses 732 Social.

“As NuLu strives to become the design, sustainability and arts center of Louisville and the Mid West, the surge in NuLu eateries enhances this vision,” Holland wrote in an e-mail from Lyon, France. “The prevalence of local food proves a dedication to sustainable farming and eating, the gastronomic delicacies are designed beautifully showing artistic flair, and the flavors are multi-cultural and welcoming to all!”

Rather than increasing competition carving up the market, the NuLu restaurant row has been a huge boost for Mayan Cafe, Shadle said, with business doubling over the last four years.

Increasing restaurant choices have brought an increasingly diverse crowd, she added. “A lot of people didn’t realize we were here.”

Before 2008, the Mayan Cafe, Toast and The Bodega at Felice had East Market to themselves.

The fourth quarter, 2008 was the worst time since Mayan Cafe opened in 1997, and East Market would just close down at night, Shadle said. “It was terrible. No one was coming. It was the loneliest place to be.

“You could stand in the middle of the road on Thursdays at 9 o’clock and not get hit.”

“I almost moved to the East End,” Ucán said. “My investors were saying we should move to the East End, but it didn’t feel right.”

The turning point was 732 Social opening, “and that pumped everything up!” he said.

The latest to open is Please & Thank You restaurant/cafe, which debuted May 16, said owner Brooke Vaughn.

The stylish cafe is small but mighty, which is kind of the tone for the entire area with the exception of Mozz on the far west edge of Nulu at 455 E.Market.

Even Toast, which is one of the larger spaces, has only about 1,000 square feet of seating, something that won’t change much, Morris said, though the restaurant will have an outdoor courtyard after the move to the Artemisia space.

All the NuLu restaurants also compliment each other, with sustainable menus heavy with farm-to-table ingredients, giving NuLu an overall culinary identity, Shadle said.

“Our loyal clients will always be our loyal clients, Shadle said. “But collectively, everything going on has put East Market Street on the map as a foodie destination.”

The NuLu line up:

The Bodega at Felice, 829 E. Market. A market, deli and coffee bar all in one.

Decca (opening in the fall), 812 E. Market. Decca owners promise to bring a San Francisco esthetic to Louisville.

Harvest’s interior features portraits of real farmers. (Click to enlarge.)

Harvest, 624 East Market. Locavore pioneer/ farmer Ivor Chadkowski’s showcase for high-quality, local foods.

Ghyslian on Market, 725 E. Market. Part of Ghyslain Maurais’ four-location network of French-style patisseries and retail/wholesales chocolate business.

Mayan Cafe, 813 E. Market. An authentic Mayan restaurant featuring Bruce Ucán recipes inspired by his native Yucatan.

Mozz, 445 E. Market. Grisanti alum Mathew Antonovich’s high-end Italian restaurant featuring farm-to-table recipes from Lazio-Rome-Naples, Tuscany-Florence, and Emilia-Romagna regions.

Garage Bar (under construction), 700 E. Market. Garage Bar will feature wood-fired pizza from Proof on Main Chef Michael Paley.

Please & Thank You, 800 E. Market.

732 Social at 732 E. Market in the Green Building. An innovative menu with lots of small-plate offerings.

Toast on Market, 736 E. Market. Known for hearty breakfasts and a C-level clientele on weekday mornings.

Wiltshire on Market, 636 E. Market. Caterer Susan Hirschberg said she’d never have a restaurant. Now she has a loyal following at Wiltshire on Market, which offers an ever-changing menu.