Welcome to the Jan. 19 Monday Business Briefing.

This is your private business intelligence briefing with Insider Louisville staff and contributors vetting tips collected during the past few days, hours and minutes before we post.

While we wait for Metro to decide the fate of a major Butchertown condo development that’s recently been called into question, we take a look at U of L President James Ramsey’s catapulting stock in Big Steak, a local med-tech startup acquisition, Papa John’s new push to entice franchisees, and lots of bourbon action. But first, to the most interesting grocery store in the city…

Plot twist: First Link Discount Foods grocery is for sale

A USDA-approved meatpacking facility lies beneath the First Link grocery store near Liberty Green.

A USDA-approved meatpacking facility lies beneath the First Link grocery store near Liberty Green. | Photo by Stephen George

First Link Discount Foods, the low-cost grocery store that has operated at its East Liberty Street location since 1986, is for sale, according to owner Bruce Silverman. And the listing has gotten the attention of city government officials looking to bring a high-end grocery store downtown and better connect Liberty Green with the broader NuLu and east downtown resurgence.

But there’s a twist: In the basement of First Link is a large-scale, USDA-approved meatpacking facility that remains fully functional. The Silverman family invested millions to build it in the mid-1990s and began running their own meats for the store and a distribution business called Silverman Foods.

When IL visited last week, we found a clean, cooled industrial facility filled with high-grade equipment below the unassuming grocery store. There are corridors of walk-in freezers and assembly lines that look as if they haven’t been used in years. We talked to three different Metro development officials about the property, and each cited the meatpacking facility as a prime — and delightfully unusual — selling point.

A family business since 1943 (it first operated on the corner of Shelby and Jacob streets), First Link primarily serves residents of Dosker Manor, the publicly owned senior living site across the street. But business has lagged — in part because Liberty Green, which is nearly 100 percent occupied, brought a different clientele to the area. Silverman has operated the business with his father, Bernard, for more than 40 years. But health problems have forced the 88-year-old elder Silverman to stop working at the store every day.

“It’s not fun anymore,” Bruce Silverman says.

Metro officials are keen on the spot — and a little bemused at what lies beneath.

“It has a tremendous asset in its USDA-approved meatpacking plant in the basement,” says Louisville Forward Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwohl. “Right now it serves a critical function as a grocery store for that neighborhood — particularly Dosker Manor.”

The grocery portion of the property is something of a relic, and one official said it’s outsized for the population density there. For the empty-nesters and millennials to whom developers and Metro government are marketing downtown condo living, First Link is a far cry from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Wiederwohl and other officials say it needs a major upgrade to stay relevant in the changing neighborhood. And that’s something Silverman says he’s not interested in doing — at least not without Metro’s help.

The Silverman family is listing the property at $8.9 million. Insiders say to watch for that to come down.

Downtown ‘Bourbon District’ is a real thing this time

bourbonYou might remember that a couple years ago, as our fair city’s bourbon boom was beginning in earnest, there was talk of a downtown “Bourbon District.” These were heady times, with the additions of the Evan Williams Experience and Michter’s. But beyond vague discussions of bourbon-themed streetscapes and an initial concept study, it went nowhere.

Then, just in time for the 2013 holidays, Mayor Fischer announced a top-shelf bourbon and food working group, which included — deep breath — a bourbon-as-built-environment working group. If you’re thinking of bourbon fountains sprinkled along Whiskey Row, though, try to restrain yourself. The mayor said at the time he wanted Louisville to be to bourbon what Napa Valley is to wine.

So last month, after what IL speculates were some rich discussions about how to further urbanize bourbon, the Louisville Downtown Partnership hired local design firm Solid Light to begin setting out the vision.

Rebecca Matheny, LDP’s executive director, tells IL they’ll focus on Main Street from 10th Street — where the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company will be — east to Angel’s Envy near Slugger Field, then south to Fourth Street Live. Matheny says they’ll be kicking off stakeholder meetings in the next couple weeks.