The Closing Bell: Hillbilly Tea hires new chef; Muhammad Ali’s home for sale; Aetna, Humana accuse feds of misconduct; local startups raise millions; and more

Hillbilly Tea hires new head chef

Hillbilly Tea owner Karter Louis, right, hired Lawrence Weeks, left, as his new head chef.| Photo by Rchard Schultz

Hillbilly Tea owner Karter Louis, right, hired Lawrence Weeks, left, as his new head chef. | Photo by Rchard Schultz

The Southern restaurant Hillbilly Tea has added a new head chef to its kitchen.

Lawrence Weeks has joined “the ever-evolving Appalachian kitchen,” according to an emailed announcement. He formerly worked at Jack Fry’s and is co-founder of LocalsOnly:Louisville, a pop-up dining experience that brings together local chefs to cook for a select group of diners.

Weeks will team up with Hillbilly Tea owner and executive chef Karter Louis and with Keith Jones. Jones was sous chef at Hillbilly Tea before it closed in 2015. He is returning to Hillbilly Tea from Bistro Le Relais, where he worked at sous chef.

To celebrate the new hires, Hillbilly Tea will host a special six-course meal event called “A Day in Appalachia” on Oct. 26.

“I’ve been watching Keith grow over the past few years and I am a huge admirer of Lawrence,” Louis said in the announcement, “but these two together is most definitely a dream team.”

Hillbilly Tea reopened in June at a new location, 106 W. Main St. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, Tuesday through Friday, and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday. It also serves brunch, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. —Caitlin Bowling

Muhammad Ali’s Louisville home listed for sale

Muhammad Ali lived in this Prospect home while in Louisville. | Courtesy of Jefferson County PVA

Muhammad Ali lived in this Prospect home while in Louisville. | Courtesy of Jefferson County PVA

If you ever wanted to live like the Champ, here’s your chance: Muhammad Ali’s home was listed this week for $2.2 million.

While in Louisville, GOAT lived in a 9,304-square-foot home in eastern Jefferson County. Andrew Hirschman of McNamara & Hirschman in Scottsdale, Ariz., designed the house.

It features five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, hand-forged glass art light fixtures, extensive crown molding, built-in bookcases, high ceilings, granite countertops, walk-in closets, a four-car garage and a gas fireplace, according to the listing.

But that’s not nearly all — it also includes a two-tiered home theater, with a separate audio and visual room, an in-ground heated pool with waterfall, and a lighted basketball court with a custom surface.

More details about Ali’s home and a video tour of the property can be viewed on the listing site. Semonin Realtors Louisville office is the real estate company selling the property.  —Caitlin Bowling

A look at Swope Design Group’s future digs

Louisville-based Swope Design Group has released renderings of what its new headquarters will look like. The company hopes to move in spring 2017.

Insider Louisville reported in August that the interior design company was moving its headquarters from Lexington Road to 813 E. Main St. in the Butchertown/NuLu neighborhood. The company plans to erect a new 2,136-square-foot building next to the Garden House, which already sits on the property. The cost of the project is estimated at $700,000 to $800,000, including the property purchase.

Realm Construction Co. is the general contractor. —Caitlin Bowling

Louisville’s Hillcrest Avenue featured in Wall Street Journal article about Halloween hotspots

Hillcrest Avenue was featured in the Wall Street Journal.

Hillcrest Avenue was featured in The Wall Street Journal.

Louisville’s most Halloween-loving area got some national attention this week as The Wall Street Journal reported on the best places to trick-or-treat. Residents along Crescent Hill’s Hillcrest Avenue go all out each October, turning their houses into makeshift graveyards, alien landings, shark-infested waters — you name it, they have done it.

WSJ writer Anne Marie Chaker caught up with Katie Kubitskey, Hillcrest resident and marketing manager of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, to find out what it takes to create such a popular Halloween destination in the city. Chaker wrote:

“In Louisville, Ky., Katie Kubitskey, 28, moved to Hillcrest Avenue last year in large part because of the street’s reputation as a Halloween destination. Last year was her first Halloween on the street, and she tallied about 1,000 trick-or-treaters an hour. Armed with 60 5-pound bags of candy donated from friends and family, she ended the evening with just one bag left.”

She also interviewed Hillcrest resident Finbar Kinsella and talked about the pros and cons of closing streets for such festivities. The gist of the article seemed to be on how the holiday has moved more toward a community-minded event.

“Halloween has become a destination holiday. Gone is the obligatory meet-and-greet of neighbors who live close by. Now, on Halloween in cities and in many suburbs, children descend on a few streets that take decorations seriously and create a spooky carnival feel. For host streets, there are rising expectations that they will put on a show and provide candy.”Sara Havens

Copper & Kings expands into California and Michigan markets, hires food and beverage director

Copper & Kings

Copper & Kings

Copper & Kings American Brandy has struck gold, so to speak. The Louisville-based distiller has expanded its reach into California, which means its products will soon be found at liquor stores and bars in the Golden State. The products also can be found in Michigan, bringing the number of markets where you can buy the brandy and absinthe to 28.

“California is the largest spirits market in America, and the largest brandy/Cognac market in the nation,” said CEO Joe Heron in a press release. “We are incredibly excited to bring our interpretation of American brandy to the whole Golden State.”

And in other C&K news, Heron recently told Insider that the Butchertown distillery might open a bar with a kitchen component early next year, and that it hired food and beverage director Joe Phillips to help plan that vision. The company wants to see the courtyard become more of an integrated destination, Heron said. — Sara Havens

Louisville Innovation Summit to tackle the future of aging

Louisville Innovation Summit

Louisville Innovation Summit

Hundreds of innovators and executives will be converging on downtown Louisville for the third annual Louisville Innovation Summit, Oct. 10-11, at the Marriott. The summit explores “what’s new, important and trending in the aging care industry, including digital health, health data, new care models, entrepreneurship.”

Keynote speakers include: Esther Dyson, founder of Way to Wellville; Alexandra Drane, founder of Eliza Corporation; and Mark Ganz, president and CEO of Cambia Health Solutions.

Louisville says it is a leader in the aging care business, with 23,000 professionals producing $50 million in annual revenue. The purpose of the summit, organizers said, is to address the fact that by 2030, the over-65 population will nearly triple, dramatically impacting the health care system in the United States. “It has never been more clear that more resources, more innovation, and new approaches to aging care are needed to serve this growing population and the challenge it represents,” they said.

The summit also will hold its startup pitch competition that “seeks and shares breakthrough ideas designed to maintain independence and improve care for older adults.” A winner is announced on Tuesday. Two Louisville competitors are among this 12 finalists:

Inscope Medical Solutions is dedicated to developing low-cost, connected medical devices. Its first device is the Inscope Laryngoscope, an innovative technology that optimizes intubation, improving this high-risk procedure’s speed and safety.

Liberate Medical manufacturers noninvasive respiratory muscle stimulators to improve the quality and reduce the cost of care for patients with pulmonary disease. —Mickey Meece

KFC, Taco Bell continue strong showing during third quarter

Greg Creed is CEO of Yum Brands. | Courtesy of Yum Brands

Greg Creed is CEO of Yum Brands. | Courtesy of Yum Brands

Despite a sluggish restaurant market in the United States, KFC and Taco Bell have remained winning concepts for parent company Yum Brands, according to CEO Greg Creed.

During the third quarter of 2016, same-store sales at KFC and Taco Bell rose 4 percent and 3 percent. Creed credited the positive performances to value deals and a focus on core products.

For KFC, those deals are the $5 individual meal deal and $20 family meal deal, and KFC’s marketing campaign promoting its extra crispy chicken. Taco Bell lifted sales with a $1 breakfast menu promotion that increased breakfast sales by 14 percent during the third quarter. Taco Bell has expanded on that success by promoting its $1 menu, which spans all daylong.

“When you remain committed to the core and value, the results follow,” Creed said.

Yum Brands’ third restaurant chain, Pizza Hut, continued to falter, however. It reported a 1 percent decline in same-store sales for the third quarter. Creed said that Yum Brands will translate what it has learned at KFC and Taco Bell to Pizza Hut, which the company hopes will result in better sales.

“We know the product can perform when the right product is combined with a compelling value and the messaging is distinctive and disruptive,” he said. “I am confident in our ability to turnaround Pizza Hut.”

Offering value and a quality product are the keys to surviving in all types of economic climates, Creed said. “That’s how you win even in a sluggish market.”

Multiple restaurant market analysts have indicated during the last several months that restaurant sales in the United States have slowed and that the restaurant industry could be headed for a recession. (However, Louisville restaurant company Papa John’s International, Texas Roadhouse and Yum Brands have continued to perform well comparatively.)

Creed pinpointed the election as the cause of the market slowdown.

“I think there is just great uncertainty about what’s going to happen. I think people are hunkering down a little bit,” he said, adding: “I am really confident that our brands can grow in strong markets, or markets with less momentum than we’d like to have.” —Caitlin Bowling

Aetna, Humana accuse federal government of ‘serious’ misconduct

aetnaHealth insurers Aetna and Humana have asked a court to sanction the U.S. government because they assert that federal officials have dragged their feet in providing documents that are critical to their merger defense.

The U.S. Department of Justice has sued the companies to stop their proposed $37 billion merger. A trial is set for Dec. 5.

In filings in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the companies wrote that they are bringing the motion for sanctions “as a last resort to preserve the integrity of the trial in the wake of serious and prolonged discovery misconduct by the government.”

Aetna and Humana have filed paperwork to compel the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide documents that may help the companies in their case. The DOJ has argued that the merger would reduce competition, especially for people on Medicare.

Aetna last summer cited Humana’s “growing Medicare Advantage business” as one of the reasons for the merger. At the time, Humana had about 3.2 million Medicare Advantage members, while Aetna had about 1.3 million.
The Kaiser Family Foundation said last July that Aetna and Humana combined would have a Medicare Advantage market share exceeding 50 percent in 10 states and higher than 67 percent in five states.

Medicare is the traditional health care program for the elderly, managed by the federal government. With Medicare Advantage, the benefits are provided through a private health insurer.

humana logoThe case hinges in part on how the court defines the relevant market. While the government is arguing that Medicare Advantage is a distinctly different product from Medicare in general, the companies believe they can show that the customers can — and do — switch from one to the other, meaning they are essentially competing products in the same market.

“The CMS documents at issue are critically important and highly relevant to key questions in this litigation,” Aetna and Humana said in their motion for sanctions.

Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Justice.svgBefore the DOJ filed the suit, only the agency — not the merging companies — had the power to subpoena records to determine whether to file the lawsuit to try to stop the merger, attorney Ethan Glass, a former DOJ assistant chief, told IL in a recent interview. However, after the suit was filed, the merging parties also were given the power to ask the court to compel the disclosure of documents.

The companies wrote that because of the tight time schedule and the feds’ delay in producing documents from the HHS and CMS, “there is no longer sufficient time to remedy the government’s discovery violations.”

Instead, they asked that the court impose various sanctions against the government, including:

  • On issues where the production of documents on a timely basis would have allowed the companies to address issues the government has identified, the court should find against the government.
  • The court should preclude the government from introducing CMS documents into evidence and from calling three CMS employees as witnesses because the government’s failure to produce CMS documents has impaired the ability of Aetna and Humana to adequately prepare.
  • As the government’s misconduct has impeded the companies’ ability to identify proper witnesses, the court should allow the companies to reopen their witness list “for the limited purpose of permitting them to change their selection of CMS witnesses.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the government had not filed a response. Aetna and the DOJ declined to provide IL with a comment on the matter. —Boris Ladwig

Almost $10 million raised last month by Louisville companies

CUB - Scrabble moneyAt the October Venture Connectors Luncheon, EnterpriseCorp Director Lisa Bajorinas’s presentation of Who’s Been Funded was a little more interesting than last month’s, when the answer was “basically no one, really.”

Lots of familiar names and some IL has already reported on.

Here’s how it broke down:

Fan-favorite Chris Bailey, CEO of Revio, makers of GearBreak, reports it received $250,000 from a Detroit angel investor. Given that Bailey also attended TechStars in Detroit, it raised the question: will Revio relocate to Motor City? After the event, Bailey was definitive: “Absolutely not.”

IL already reported that Ben Reno-Weber’s MobileServe closed its seed round, with $350,000 from local and regional angel investors. Its app tracks time spent volunteering for service hours and helps organizations encourage and reward volunteerism.

Liberate Medical raised $400,000 from Enterprise Angels, Marshall Ventures and Commonwealth Seed. The company is creating a device that stimulates muscles to help relieve chronic pulmonary disease.

IL has also reported on Nick Mattingly’s Switcher Studio raising $400,000 from Poplar, Cherub and the Sequel Fund and others. Mattingly advised he has new products coming out soon.

MobileMedTek raised $1 million from SIDIS Global. SIDIS is “a global management and investment company, focused on life sciences.”  MobileMedTek won first place in the 2012 Vogt Awards. The company makes user-friendly medical devices and is working on one that can affect epilepsy using brain waves.

Finally, the big money went to iHealth Solutions: Venkat Sharma’s company had an investment of $7 million from Fulcrum Equity Partners. iHealth moved from Washington, D.C. to Louisville in 2014. It describes itself as a medical billing and claims processing system that addresses health care’s changing to values-based models. Melissa Chipman

Louisville ranks 205th on WalletHub 2016 Fastest Growing Cities

Source: WalletHub

WalletHub is forever crunching numbers, and now it has produced 2016’s Fastest Growing Cities.

Good news/bad news: Louisville didn’t make the short list of cities with high growth or low growth. Instead, it ranked 205th, out of 515 cities, with an overall score of 44.94.

WalletHub said its analysts compared cities of varying population sizes, based on two key dimensions, so-called sociodemographics and jobs and economy. They evaluated these categories using 14 relevant metrics, and each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing optimal economic growth.

Louisville had a sociodemographics rank of 142, and jobs and economy rank of 323. When ranked by city size, Louisville came in at 25, just below Columbus, Ohio, with an overall score of 45.11 (which landed it in the 196th spot on the overall list.). Lexington ranked 40th by city size.

The data set — from a period spanning 2009 to 2015 — ranges from population growth to unemployment rate decrease and growth in regional GDP per capita.

“Experts might not agree on the ‘best’ or the ‘right recipe for rapid economic growth,” WalletHub said in its report, “but some cities have figured out the key ingredients and how to stir the pot just right to sustain long-term prosperity. Patterns emerge within those cities, allowing us to identify the contributing factors that perpetuate a lasting cycle of growth.

By comparison, Lexington ranked 324th, with an overall score of 41.66, and Cincinnati pulled in the rear with an overall score of 29.99. Indeed, Cincinnati was highlighted on a list of midsize cities with the lowest economic growth by WalletHub. —Mickey Meece