FROM TRUCK TO TABLE

by Michelle Aiello, Photos by Keni Parks


 

 

For Ren and Gwyn Everly, making the leap from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant was not exactly a long-term plan. But after four successful years running their food truck, “Big Red”, along with a steady catering business, word began to spread about their delicious smoked meats and sides. And on May 31, the Everlys introduced their brand new restaurant, J. Render’s Southern Table & Bar. Located at 3191 Beaumont Centre Circle, the restaurant has seating for about 95 inside, with another 25 on the patio. 
When asked about the origins of the name, Gwyn said, “My husband’s name is John Render Everly – Render was a family surname on his father’s side. Southern Table is a nod to the fact that we offer Southern Fare along with BBQ. 
It took about a year for the Everlys to find the ideal space, but they are convinced it was worth the wait. “We wanted something that wasn’t too big,” Gwyn said. “Plus, we wanted to have a full bar, a patio, somewhere to park our food truck, and plenty of parking for customers. When they found the Puccini’s space (which had stood vacant for two years), they knew it was the ideal location. 
The space has been given a complete makeover. They worked with contractor Drew McLellan of HM Homebuilders to transform the former pizza joint into the chic restaurant they envisioned, with natural wood details, exposed ductwork, a modern bar, and local art. According to Gwyn, “HM Homebuilders did a fabulous job, and every person Drew brought in to work with us (Kenny Isaac’s Interiors, Puckett Electric, Cecil’s Plumbing & HVAC, Certa Pro Painting & Centric Concrete) has been fantastic.” They gutted the space, removed the drop ceiling and replaced it with black painted exposed ductwork, and removed the tile and carpet floors to make way for sleek, polished concrete. None of which would have been possible without the backing of Mark Herren and Bank of the Bluegrass.
For interior design, they hired local architecture and design firm Nomi Designs. The goal of the project, headed by designer Rebecca Cox, was to create a modern, upscale look with plenty of texture and natural materials. The steel logo was designed and created by Spurr Services and the exposed wood walls were fashioned by Luke Lilly of Branch & Bark Carpentry. “People have commented that the décor isn’t like most BBQ places,” said Gwyn. “Our goal was to create a bar where we wanted to hang out.” 
J. Render’s also displays an impressive collection of art, some of which Gwyn picked up at Market 301. A photographer friend, David McRae, is responsible for the equine photos that line the dining room walls. Near the bar is a local artists’ wall that will change periodically (Liz Foley is the current featured artist), and in the bathrooms are a variety of cheeky greeting cards that Gwyn framed. 
Ren got his start in the food business by owning Domino’s franchises, and Gwyn describes herself as “a bit of a rolling stone” – she worked in the mortgage business (American Mortgage Service Company) for several years, and later graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Kentucky. Following that, she worked for Lexmark and then earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Georgetown College to teach high school math, but ultimately ended up in the food service business along with her husband. 
When the Everlys bought their truck four years ago, it was primarily because they needed a kitchen to run their catering business. Gwyn explained that they never intended to have a food truck, but at the time, they couldn’t find a commercial kitchen to rent. “So then, we thought, ‘we have this really cool food truck, why not take it out?’ and that’s how J. Render’s BBQ was born.” The food truck was such a success that their catering and delivery business began to grow as well. “We got to the point where we were turning away more business than we could do,” she said. “So we felt like the next logical step was to get a commissary kitchen. And if you do that, you might as well sell the food out of the front door, too. So we decided to take the leap and open a restaurant.” The food truck will still go out almost as much as before – mainly for lunches at office parks, catering jobs, and other events around town. Plus, now that they have the restaurant, they are able to accept more last-minute catering jobs. When they only had the food truck, their schedule was often booked months in advance. 
When it comes to food, Gwyn says, you’ll see many of the same dishes they make for friends and family at their home. “We’re home cooks – we don’t have any formal training, but we know good food,” she said. “Ren is the Pit Master. He has been smoking meat recreationally for about twenty years and he really enjoys learning the craft and experimenting with different smokers. And I’m all about the sides. My daughter says, ‘Mom, it’s so weird to sit down at a restaurant and eat food you’ve made.’” 
Customer favorites include the Smoked Buffalo Chicken Dip – a baked, creamy mixture of pulled chicken breast, cheddar cheese smoked in-house, and buffalo sauce, served with a side of club crackers, carrots and celery. Other favorites include the “Oh No You Didn’t” Grilled Cheese – pulled pork with a touch of sweet BBQ sauce and smoked mac n’ cheese nestled between two slices of American cheese on grilled Texas toast, and the Havana Day Dreamin’ Cubano – their version of the original Cuban sandwich with hickory smoked pork loin, ham, swiss, and pickles on a grilled hoagie roll with Gwyn’s mojo mayo. Diners who want a taste of the different meats J. Render’s has to offer will love the Triple Threat Sliders – a trio of hickory smoked pulled pork, chicken, and beef brisket served with pickles and their specialty sauce. 
When asked about her favorite dish on the menu, Gwyn said, “The Smoked Chicken Salad is my absolute favorite. Basically it’s our BBQ Quesadilla without the bread, so it’s perfect for those who might want a healthier or low carb option. Our female customers love it.” She recommends the chicken salad and a Cosmopolitan for the perfect lunch or dinner. 
Home cooked food and hospitality aside, J. Render’s offers customers a chance to “step it up” from the casual atmosphere of most BBQ restaurants. For example, while most offer counter service, J. Render’s offers a full bar and table service. “I think that differentiates us from other places,” said Gwyn. She has personally tasted every wine on their list (her current favorites are OZB Zinfandel and Apothic Red). They also offer mixed drinks and a rotating tap with local beers, including Country Boy’s Cougar Bait and West 
Sixth’s IPA.
Until opening the doors at J. Render’s Southern Table & Bar, Ren and Gwyn had one employee, Andrea Lathrem, and together, they did all the cooking. Now Lathrem is the kitchen manager and Gwyn has taken on a more administrative role, but she still loves to cook. “We had last Sunday off, so what did we do? We had about seven people over for dinner.” Their daughter Lauren Lovely handles online reviews and social media, and their son-in-law David Lovely works as a manager, so it’s truly a family business. “We have an awesome, fabulous staff and a great General Manager, John Zielke, so we are not spending all of our days and nights here, which is rare in the first two months. I recognize and appreciate that,” Gwyn said.
Overall, the Everlys are happy with the way things are going. They’ve had a successful opening, the restaurant is busy, and our catering business remains healthy, and continues to grow. “We try to offer a full range of options for our customers,” Gwyn said. “We have a food truck, a sit-down dining experience, pick-up, and full service catering. And, I believe that we are the closest restaurant and bar to Keeneland, so we’re looking forward to a busy fall.”
J. Render’s Southern Table and Bar is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on Sunday.
Happy Hour is daily from 3-6 p.m., with $1 off all drinks and select appetizers for $6. Late night happy hour takes place from 9-11 p.m on Friday & Saturday nights with the same pricing, and on Wednesdays during happy hour, bottles of wine are half price. Enjoy live music on the patio from 8-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights when weather permits and inside during inclement weather.
Q&A with Ben and Gwyn Everly
Where are you from? We are both from Kentucky. 
Tell us about your family. We have been married for 28 years. We have a daughter, Lauren Lovely (and son-in-law David Lovely), a grandson, Jack Lovely and son, Jared Everly. 
Tell us about the overall concept at J Render’s. What inspires you when creating menus? J. Render’s is some of the best Southern BBQ you’ve ever had, but also much more. We offer Southern Fare as well as BBQ, so even if you aren’t a BBQ fan (but seriously, who isn’t?), you will find something to suit your tastes.
What is the last thing you cooked for yourself at home? Spaghetti and homemade meatballs.
What is one of your favorite foods from your childhood? Gwyn’s is meatloaf, and Ren’s is fried chicken.
How would you describe working in your kitchen? In a word, “fun”. We are always laughing, making jokes and enjoying ourselves in the kitchen. When our employees were learning our recipes they jokingly called it “Cooking Adventures with Gwyn”. Life is too short to not have fun.
What chefs do you look up to (Lexington or others)? Myron Mixon (4-time World BBQ Champion) is one of Ren’s most admired chefs. 
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people? Maker’s 46
What’s your favorite weekend road trip? Heading down to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.
Any tips for at-home BBQ cooks? Don’t go by time, go by temperature. You can’t rush good BBQ – it’s done when it’s done. 
If someone wanted to be a chef, what three pieces of advice would you offer? Invest in a good thermometer, good knives, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
What are some of your customers’ favorite things to order? Our signature “Oh No You Didn’t” Grilled Cheese. But our Smoked Chicken Wings are fast becoming a customer favorite, along with our Smoked Fried Chicken and Apple Glazed Baby Back Ribs.
Favorite meat & way to prepare it? Beef Brisket, smoked low and slow.
What does “hospitality” mean to you? Making someone feel welcome, whether it is in the restaurant or in our home. We love to entertain and cook for people in our personal lives, so this also translates to our vision for J. Render’s Southern Table & Bar. When you’re here, you’ll enjoy the same food that we would serve guests in our own home.
Quote you live by? “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. -Henry Ford
Any last words? Be fearless, you never know what you can accomplish until you try.
J. Render's Smoked Buffalo Chicken Dip
20 ounces chicken breast, cooked and chopped
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup ranch dressing
¾ cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
1 ½ cups shredded smoked cheddar
Heat chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over 
medium heat, until heated through. Stir in cream cheese and ranch dressing. Cook, stirring until well blended and warm. Mix in shredded smoked cheddar cheese.  
Transfer to slow cooker and serve warm. 
Makes about 6 cups.

 

 



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