Edward Lee

(Source: The LEE Initiative)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The drab, gray sky that lingered Friday afternoon matched the mood beneath it at 610 Magnolia in Old Louisville.

There, at one of Louisville's most interesting and artful restaurants, the door was closed. 

"I spoke with a bar owner yesterday that had a perfect synopsis or comparison for me," said Lindsey Ofcacek, the wine director at 610 Magnolia. "She was like, 'You know, we made it eight months. We were able to keep our staff. It’s like we ran a marathon, and I can see the finish line, and now someone hit me in the knees with a baseball bat.'"

610 Magnolia is just one of thousands of spots feeling that pain after Gov. Andy Beshear closed restaurants and bars to in-person service until mid-December to slow the surging coronavirus.

610 Magnolia

610 Magnolia, a celebrated restaurant in Old Louisville. (WDRB Photo)

"This is going to be tough," Ofcacek said. "I understand why they had to close dining rooms and restrictions are getting tough."

While the tasting menu at 610 is notably creative, Ofcacek and the restaurant's celebrated chef, Edward Lee, have been working on something more creative — something that’s having an impact outside the walls and door of 610: a nonprofit called the LEE Initiative.

610 Magnolia

Duck breast with rice and okra at 610 Magnolia. (WDRB Photo)

"We started off a very lovely, small nonprofit," said Ofcacek, the co-founder of the LEE Initiative.

The LEE Initiative started in 2018 with the goal of making the restaurant industry more diverse and equal, but it has had a new focus in the age of COVID-19: a program that’s keeping restaurant workers fed and employed.

"I know making it eight months was really exciting for a lot of people," Ofcacek said.

Now, with restrictions in place again, they’re doing more in more places.

"On Monday, we’ll be purchasing 200 meals from Gold Bar, and they’ll be able to keep their staff on and have them pass out the meals directly there," Ofcacek said. "On Wednesday, we’ll be working with Toasty’s Tavern, and, on Friday, we’ll be with Irish Rover. The following week we’ll have three new restaurants." 

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Fish and chips from the Irish Rover. (Source: Irish Rover Facebook)

The initiative could act as a nice boost for an industry that needs one, but Ofcacek admits it won’t be enough.

"There is going to need to be federal funding and action to save any of us," she said.

Until then, they’ll do what they can while hoping for a day the doors at 610 Magnolia and everywhere can open again.

To learn more about how you can help the LEE Initiative, click here.

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