A group of young students pooled $2,000 to start a restaurant in an old luncheonette called Pax, not far from the University of Kentucky. Among them were Lucia Gattone, Sue Hosey, Anita Courtney, Leslie Bowers, Barry Bleach, Artie Howard and BJ Finnell. As a creative and hard working group, they served delicious and nutritious food in a warm, comfortable atmosphere, which quickly made Alfalfa a community hub.
In 1974, Marina Ubaldi bought Alfalfa, along with chimney sweep, Jeff Gitlin. Marina was a gifted cook-- way ahead of her time. Alfalfa was the first restaurant in Lexington to serve brunch and it featured Cajun and Creole style food way before most of us ever heard of blackened redfish.
Some professors ate lunch at 551 S. Limestone every afternoon. Others ate dinner there every night. Marriage proposals were made, local musicians played their first shows and poets read for the first time at Alfalfa.
Stories about the early years abound. On opening day, still short of chairs, Alfalfa promised a free meal to anyone who brought a chair. Bringing in a set of salt and pepper shakers earned a dessert. For a short time, one of the Top 10 Most Wanted, according to an FBI wanted list, worked as a cook, unbeknownst to everyone.
In 1987 Marina moved to Florida and sold the restaurant to dishwasher Jake Gibbs, baker Tom Martin, waitress Cathy Martin and carpenter Peter Fleming. Gibbs also roped college friend, Jim Happ, into investing. “People were coming up to us on the street and offering us money to keep the place going. They didn’t want to see it change,” said Gibbs.
Even with new owners, the Alfalfa vibe prevailed. Food was procured from local farmers, a new international menu was featured every Wednesday, a movie was filmed in the dining room and employees published a magazine called "Alfalf-Art" that included poems, short stories, photographs, cartoons, recipes and a piano sonata.
When Alfalfa held their 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary parties, people streamed in from across town, across the state and across the country to reconnect, reminisce and see what the next generation had done with the place.
In 2004, Jim Happ became the sole owner of Alfalfa. He and his wife Betsy actually met at Alfalfa, so carrying on its legacy was a no brainer.
In 2005, Jim moved Alfalfa from its home for 31 years across from the University to Main Street. The new venue has a bigger kitchen, spacious waiting area, lovely natural light, and brick walls perfect for art shows, making the new venue a perfect spot to transplant Alfalfa.
Alfalfa had really been struggling for a handful of years and was put up for sale in Nov. 2016. Most people were not interested upon learning Alfalfa lost over $56,000 in 2016. Cameron Heathcoat and her business partner met with Jim on Saturday, April 15, 2017 to find out more information. Where everyone else saw a failure, Cameron saw so much potential. After Jim disclosed he was changing the locks and Alfalfa would serve it’s final brunch the following day, Cameron knew she owed it to herself and Lexington to purchase Alfalfa and give it one year to see if the restaurant could be saved. Cameron’s business partner quickly realized he wasn’t cut out for the restaurant industry and left the partnership after 50 days which ultimately took too much time away from what mattered most to Cameron, her family. True to her word, she turned Alfalfa around and sold the restaurant on her 365th day of ownership. The Alfalfa Family will forever be thankful to Cameron, Kevin, Stella and Herrington for the sacrifices they made to not only keep Alfalfa alive, but for once again making it a fun, hip restaurant with incredible food!
With the proposed developments of downtown Lexington's urban landscape, the new owners hope to re-establish Alfalfa as the local first, fresh food, community hub that it initially was founded as- instilling joy, vibrance, and breathing new life into the beloved Lexington staple!