Now we know when Varanese's new River House restaurant will open

Now we know when Varanese's new River House restaurant will open

louisevillebusinessfirsChef John Varanese has set an opening date for his new River House Restaurant and Raw Bar.

The riverfront restaurant, on River Road near the Louisville Water Tower, will host a grand opening celebration on Monday, March 7, at 4 p.m. Guests can enjoy a ceremonial champagne christening and toast along with complimentary hors d’oeuvres.

Varanese also owns Varanese restaurant on Frankfort Avenue.
He told Louisville Business First in August that he has had his eyes on the River Road property since 2001 and crafted architectural renderings for the restaurant in 2004.

But his dream had to wait, as it proved difficult to line up investors amid the difficult economy, and he had yet to establish himself as a chef and business owner at the time.

River House will feature regional cuisine with Southern flair and an emphasis on seafood with a raw bar. Menu items will include grilled oysters, a grilled romaine salad and a Maker’s Mark bourbon barrel-plank-smoked salmon.

Prices range from $8 to $22 for lunch and $8 to $35 for dinner. The restaurant will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

The public opening of River House will be closely followed by the opening of Levee at the River House, Varanese’s second new concept located in the same building. Levee’s menu will be different from the River House menu, with small plates and a bar program featuring frozen cocktails. It will offer live entertainment at the indoor/outdoor bar.

Construction began on the 27,000-square-foot building, a former boat-storage facility, in September. The total project renovation cost is about $3.7 million, according to a news release. Funding was provided by several investors and from commercial loans. Varanese also received a $400,000 METCO loan from Louisville Metro Government for the façade and accessibility and energy efficiency improvements, as well as a business loan.


Food & Dining Magazine Chef John Varanese is getting ready to open his new riverfront restaurant, River House Restaurant & Raw Bar, with a soft public opening beginning Monday, Feb. 29. The rest of the week will be a continuing shakedown to perfect service and o read more

Varanese’s River House to open soon


chef3What may be a major new riverfront draw, the River House restaurant off River Road near Zorn Avenue will have a grand opening on March 7.

The opening of a second restaurant, at the same site and called the Levee at the River House, will open a few days later, said John Varanese, the owner and chef of both outlets and also the operator of the upscale restaurant that bears his name at 2106 Frankfort Ave.

Varanese said Friday that about $4 million has been spent on getting the two new riverside restaurants open. Their names are already mounted on the sign along River Road that also sports the name of the next-door neighbor, the long-established KingFish.

The River House will seat about 230 and the Levee about 120, but each restaurant will also have the ability to seat about 100 customers outside, Varanese said.

River House will have a soft opening Monday, operating from 5 to 11 p.m. initially, with the ribbon-cutting featuring Mayor Greg Fischer at 4 p.m. March 7. At that point, the River House will be open at 11 a.m. daily, serving until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday.

The Levee will open a few days later, probably around March 10 to 12.

The two new restaurants recently held a job fair to fill about 100 positions.

The River House menu will emphasize regional cuisine and seafood, along with a raw bar.

The Levee will occupy about one-third of the space in the building that was long used for boat sales and storage.

While the Levee will share a kitchen with River House, the Levee will offer a totally different menu. It will have small plates, such as steak sliders with caramelized onions, along with fried ravioli with smoky corn butter sauce and roasted tomatoes, among others. Varanese said other items will include tuna ceviche with mango and cucumber and bourbon barrel smoked assorted nuts.

The bar will feature frozen cocktails infused with fresh herbs and other culinary ingredients, Varanese said.

Varanese plans to emphasize live entertainment at the Levee.

The opening of the River House and the Levee will fulfill Varanese’s longtime desire to develop a local riverfront dining option, a news release said.

Construction at the River Road site began in September. The building has 27,000 square feet of space and there is room on the second level for private catered events and banquets.

The release said that River House will give guests “the sense of a charming house-like feel when they arrive at the front entryway.”

The entrance will have an indoor waterwall – a signature feature at Varanese Restaurant as well.

The main dining area will have a floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the back courtyard and riverfront. The River House menu will be primarily regional cuisine, with a Southern seafood and steak focus and a raw bar element.

Varanese, doing business as Varanese Riverfront LLC, recently received a loan package from the city to help finance the redevelopment of the former boat storage site.

The recent loans included a $50,000 facade-improvement loan, a $15,000 loan to improve accessibility, a $200,000 business loan and a $135,000 loan to improve the site’s energy efficiency.

River House hosts soft opening

wave3LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – A soft opening for Louisville’s newest restaurant was held Thursday evening.

River House, located at 3015 River Road, is run by John Varanese of Varanese on Frankfort Avenue.

The fine dining restaurant will feature seafood and a raw bar.

The owners expect to open the restaurant to the public in a couple weeks, but an exact date has not been set.

Lou. riverfront restaurants get closer to opening date

WHAS11-ABC-OYS_black-cmykAfter a short delay, Doc’s Cantina is gearing up to open its doors in March or April. It’s just one of two highly anticipated restaurants looking to open along the waterfront, bringing with it not just a brand new vibe but millions in investments.

The view is getting a lot brighter along the waterfront.  Crews are working nonstop to put the final touches on both Doc’s Cantina and River House.

Doc’s took over the old Tumbleweed building and was expected to open last fall, but water damage and problems with the front exterior delayed the opening. Now the restaurant will be open March or April

“As long as we are open before Thunder. That has always been that drop dead date for me. I have to be open before Thunder,” owner Brett Davis said.

Inside, a local artist created one of kind murals and there’s plenty of outdoor seating. Since it sits on Waterfront Development Property, once it opens, Waterfront Development will get 3 percent of the gross. David Karem with Waterfront Development explains that they lost around $120,000 when Tumbleweed left, that with state budget cuts has forced them to tighten their belts.

“I took a 15 percent cut. Nobody got any other raises. So we are trimming and watching what you do,” Karem said.

Further down the river, near the water tower, Varenese owner John Varense, is nearing completion on River House and the Levee Lounge. Once complete, it will house two restaurants under one roof and a patio that can seat 500. It’s a 15 month process he’s excited to wrap up

“I think it’s definitely a niche in the market. And even with the restaurants, I think I identified seven of them on either side of the river. And for a city of this size, that’s not very many for a city this size. So with as much waterfront as we have, there’s definitely room for competition,” Varenese said.

“There will be a soft opening at River House later this week. And a grand opening planned in a couple of weeks.

New restaurant coming to Louisville's Waterfront

There’s another new restaurant coming to the Louisville Waterfront in a building already undergoing some major renovations. John Varanese, who owns ‘Varanese’ on Frankfort Avenue, is opening a second restaurant at his new River Road property. “Levee at the River H read more

New riverfront restaurant coming to Louisville

wave3The owner of a popular restaurant is taking his good eats riverside.

Chef John Varanese, the chef and owner of Varanese Restaurant on Frankfort Ave., announced he will open a new restaurant called River House along the Ohio River.

Varanese said River House fulfills his dream of opening a riverfront dining option in Louisville.

“It’s great to have a great waterfront here,” said Varanese, “and I realized it was an riverhouse3under-utilized spot in this community with only a few restaurants, here in Louisville. I wanted to help develop this waterfront.”

The menu at River House will feature regional cuisine with Southern flair and an emphasis on seafood with a raw bar.

chef2Construction on the former boat storage building on River Road is set to begin this week and is expected to open early next year.

Copyright 2015 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.

Varanese sets River House Raw Bar opening for 2016

cropped-logo_200John Varanese announced plans this morning to open a “Southern flair” and raw bar restaurant in early 2016. It’ll be called River House Restaurant & Raw Bar and will be housed in the Fall City Boat Works building at 3015 River Road, beside KingFish.

The announcement ended the worst-kept secret in the local restaurant industry. According to David Allen, general manager at Varanese in Clifton, “John and I have been talking about putting a concept here since 2001, so it’s no surprise most everyone knows about it. … It just appears that the timing finally is right.”

chefLong before opening his namesake restaurant on Frankfort Avenue, Varanese said, he wanted a waterside establishment at this exact location. But he admitted the idea was too ambitious at the time.

“After eight years (since the opening of Varanese), it’s now time to get this project going,” said Varanese. “It’s taken the last three-and-a-half years to finally put this together.”

According to Varanese, the food will draw on culinary influences from Kentucky and the South Carolina Low Country. Menu details aren’t yet available, but he said recipe testing is ongoing at Varanese.

Adding a raw bar, he said, reflects a need for one locally.

riverhouse2“There really isn’t much of that in Louisville,” he said. He’ll also lean on the benefit of UPS’s shipping hub here “to take full advantage of our seafood purveyors in Hawaii and Florida.”

Per-person check averages are expected to be about $15 at lunch and $32 for dinner. To keep the menu affordable for both meal periods, Varanese said items such as salads and sandwiches will be shared on both menus.

“This won’t be priced like Catch 23 or (Jeff) Ruby’s,” he said, though he stressed the concept would be positioned a few notches above its neighbor, KingFish. “We’ll also offer half portions of some items.”

Bar details are vague thus far as well. (Varanese is known for a solid wine program and well-made cocktails.) Varanese only allowed that he’s looking at an extensive line of house-made frozen drinks to fit the waterside theme.

riverhouseThe 27,000-square-foot, two-story building will undergo a significant two-phase gutting and build out. The 16,000-square-foot ground floor will be dedicated to River House, while the upper floor will be reserved for “other concepts I’m not ready to reveal yet,” Varanese said. (Though he didn’t provide details, it’s likely that area will be used for large-scale catered affairs.)

River House will seat 230 inside (including a 50-seat private dining room) and 100 outside. By next spring, 15 boat slips will be added to serve water traffic.

Local architect Doug Karnes, who designed Henry’s Place (nowAnoosh Bistro), will draw the plans for River House. Like Varanese’s restaurant, it will include some retractable windows to let in fresh air. Swope Design Group will decorate the space.

Construction is set to begin the first week of September.

“To find a building of this size and scale located next to a river is not easy,” Karnes said. “It has great bones and lots of clear spans. It has an industrial character that we’ll keep some of in the final design.

”Varanese expects the restaurant will employ 150 and said leadership of that staff will initially come from current management at the Clifton restaurant.

He said the fact that the massive space will be leased slowed the project down some and required he take on more investor partners in the business. Commonwealth Bank, which also financed the Varanese restaurant, will help fund this new project and its estimated cost of $4 million.

“It will probably cost $8 million to fund the whole project,” Varanese said, adding that other buildings on the property may become used as well. “But we’ll piece that out over time.”

Varanese said having a waterside restaurant is a dream come true. The Cleveland native boated on Lake Erie and fell in love with the Atlantic Ocean while in culinary school in Charleston. Clearly, however, River House is a calculated business decision long fretted over by its chef-owner.

“When I came here in 2001, I realized how underutilized Louisville’s waterfront is, and I saw an opportunity,” he said. “In 2004, I actually had a group together to get this project off the ground, but it wasn’t the right time. … Now it’s going to happen.”


New Louisville riverfront restaurant 15 years in the making

riverhouseLane Report

The chef and owner of Varanese Restaurant on Frankfort Avenue today announced the start of construction on a new major project. The opening of his new restaurant, River House, will fulfill John Varanese’s long goal of opening a riverfront dining option in Louisville.

River House is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2016 as a premier riverfront dining destination. Construction begins this week on the 27,000 s.f. space located at 3015 River Rd., which was formerly used for boat storage.

Varanese first signed an intent to lease the building in 2001, and went as far as getting architectural renderings for his concept in 2004. But, despite his best efforts to push the project forward, the timing was not right. Varanese was an unknown in the Louisville community at that time, and he had not yet proven himself as a business owner. In addition, the economy was working against him.

As a result of these setbacks, Varanese realized he needed to scale back his plans, thus creating his namesake on Frankfort Avenue. Even while working to make Varanese successful and unique, John was never able to let go of his original plan, and he kept close watch on the property at 3015 River Road to ensure it was still available.

Fast forward fifteen years. Varanese has a strong reputation in the local community and the support of several investors. River House will give guests the sense of a charming “house like” feel when they arrive at the front entryway featuring an indoor waterwall (a signature feature at Varanese restaurant as well), then proceed into the main dining area with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the back courtyard and riverfront. Seating will also spill out onto the back terrace overlooking the river, providing options for both upscale casual diners and the boating community.

The menu will feature regional cuisine with a Southern seafood and steak focus and a raw bar element. The restaurant will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and approximately 100 jobs will be created to staff the operation.

While River House will encompass 12,000 s.f of the building, Varanese has long-term plans to utilize all 27,000 sq. ft of the facility (11,000 sq. ft of which is located on the second floor).

After 15 years of waiting, John Varanese's riverfront restaurant is taking shape

riverhouseLouisville Business First

The Louisville riverfront will have a new restaurant option early next years.

John Varanese, chef and owner of Varanese restaurant on Frankfort Avenue, unveiled plans this morning for River House, a new concept that is planned at 3015 River Road next to KingFish Restaurant.

Varanese said River House will have a “Southern flair” and a heavy focus on seafood, including a full raw bar. He said he plans to source many of his ingredients locally and regionally, but he said that having proximity to the United Parcel Service Inc. Worldport will allow him to easily ship in seafood from outside vendors.

He is still finalizing some of the recipes, using Varanese as a test kitchen to try them out.

Asked to define “Southern flair,” Varanese said the restaurant’s menu will include a take on Southern recipes and will explore the use of ingredients such as country ham and bourbon. He said he hopes to keep the price point conservative, offering many cuisine options in the $15 range with higher-end items in the $32 range. He also hopes to offer half-size portions of some dishes.

Varanese is leasing a 27,000-square foot building at 3015 River Road that previously was used by Falls City Boat Works. The building is owned by Ed Miller and the Miller family, and Falls City Boat Works will continue to operate its boating business in three other buildings on the site, Varanese said. He said he has an option to eventually take over the remainder of the buildings from the Miller family.

About 12,000 square feet of the building is set aside for River House, which will seat roughly 230 inside and another 100 people outside. Varanese also plans to set aside an area inside the restaurant for private parties and could set up tents outside near the river for parties, wedding receptions or other events.

He will split his time between the two restaurants but said he will place  more responsibility at Varanese in the hands of his team of chefs and staff there.

Construction of the River House could start within the next week and is expected to cost around $4 million. The project is being financed by Commonwealth Bank & Trust Co., and Louisville-based Brasch Constructors Inc. is the general contractor on the project.

Doug Karnes is the lead architect, part of a local design group for the project that includes engineer James Carter, Heritage Engineering, Kerr-Gruelich Engineers Inc., Swope Design Group and food and beverage operations consultant Charles Wallace.

Karnes said the building has “good bones” that will allow for a dramatic indoor dining experience.

“The industrial character of the building will be not be concealed but rather emphasized and enhanced in the new design,” he said.

During construction, the exterior and interior of the building will be renovated, including the replacement of glass and windows on the building. One plan, Varanese said, is to have retractable windows with screens that could bring in fresh air.

He also plans an indoor waterwall in the front entryway of the restaurant and a floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the back courtyard and riverfront.

Varanese said he plans to build out the entire two-story building with other concepts he was not ready to discuss on Wednesday morning.

River House will employ 150 full- and part-time workers and provide lunch and dinner service seven days a week, Varanese said.

He has had his eyes on the River Road property since 2001 and crafted architectural renderings in 2004.

“I’ve always been drawn to the water,” he said.

But he had to suspend his dream as lining up investors proved difficult amid the tightening economy and as he had yet to establish himself as a chef and business owner.

With the success of Varanese restaurant, he said, he gained the ability to pursue River House once more, this time with more success.

He does not expect River House to detract too much from KingFish, or vice versa. Instead, he said, the two restaurants should be able to feed off of each other and expand their business at the same time. “I see all kinds of competition as friendly.”

River House Louisville