Lynn's Paradise Cafe has been vacant for two years.

Lynn’s Paradise Cafe has been vacant for two years. | Photo by Sara Havens

Jan. 11 marked the second anniversary of the closing of Louisville’s famed Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. The once-charming, crazy quilt of a restaurant has become the city’s most eccentric vacant lot.

Judging by the spate of closings along that once-bright strip, with Regalo Gifts the most recent example, it’s also bringing more uncertainty about the commercial future of the Barret Avenue neighborhood Lynn’s helped pioneer. And the longer the property remains shuttered, the harder it is for neighboring businesses to survive.

So why has such a prime piece of property been closed for so long?

Ken Kapp, the real estate agent representing owner Lynn Winter, tells IL the biggest hurdle isn’t selling the land or the building. It’s that his client wants prospective owners to operate the business as Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. And she wants to maintain a role in its future.

“Discussions have centered around Lynn’s involvement, and how do we continue with the brand,” he says. “If we were just selling the real estate, it would be no problem at all.”

And while Kapp wouldn’t elaborate on what role Winter wants to play in a new venture, he says his client wants to ensure that when the restaurant is relaunched, it’s done properly — or even improved.

Given those demands, the list of prospective buyers for the $3.6 million property isn’t long. Kapp says they’ve had interest both locally and nationally, and at least one chain restaurant group has kicked the tires, though he declined to say which one. Neighbors said the original list price was $6 million, but Kapp wouldn’t confirm that.

The Barret Avenue businesses are dwindling.

Barret Avenue businesses are leaving. | Photo by Sara Havens

Terri Burt, owner of the nearby Nitty Gritty, says the absence of the strip’s anchor tenant has hurt her business and others. “It’s hard. [The area’s] lost a lot of foot traffic,” she says. To survive, she’s had to branch out and is now offering costumes in addition to her staple vintage goods. She says she’s staying put, but she’s grown frustrated. “It’s been depressing … It’s a shame it’s just sitting there.”

Kapp says Winter knows holding out is hurting nearby businesses, as they were longtime neighbors, and she’d like to make a sale for their sake as well. Among them is Speir Hardware, the venerable hardware store that has been a mainstay on Barret for more than seven decades. It’s now for sale.

More than six months ago, Metro Councilman Tom Owen, mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter and real estate pros representing Winter held a meeting to discuss the problems the vacant property is causing. They called Winter during the pow-wow. “She always has the same thing to say, she’s working on it,” Burt says. “She says she wants what’s best for her business, and it takes time.”

And unless Winter concedes, the very specific search for a buyer will go on.

Wild Eggs was among the businesses interested in the property. Co-owner JD Rothberg says his restaurant group met with Winter and her real estate reps two years ago to discuss a sale, but the parties disagreed on price, and nothing materialized. He couldn’t say what the asking price was because Winter required him to sign a nondisclosure agreement. “I can’t say the price quoted, but it was well out of what we thought was even the edge of reasonable,” he says.

IL also contacted Winter, of course, to get more information about her plans for the site, and we were put into her voicemail: “Hi, this is Lynn of Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. We are currently closed and going through evolutionary changes. It’s going to be great.”