Restaurants court sports fans, as well as family diners

Village Host and Grill owner Evan Trommer
photo by: Drew Purcell.

Lexington, KY – Evan Trommer worked his way through Village Host and Grill, trying his best to avoid the mass of people packing his restaurant to watch the University of Kentucky play in-state rival Louisville in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The scene was exactly what Trommer envisioned when he opened the business on Old Vine Street a little more than 14 months ago, even though first impressions indicate Village Host is your typical local pizza and salad joint — not a sports bar.

“That was the concept,” Trommer said. “We knew coming to Lexington, it’s a college and sports town. They love their sports, and they love their food. We knew it would be a winner.”

Trommer planned for his establishment’s duality as a restaurant as well as a destination for viewing televised sports from the start, installing 35 TVs throughout the building as part of the complete renovation project that was launched prior to its opening. The primary focus of his marketing campaigns, however, are traditional of the restaurant industry and aimed at the overall experience at Village Host, with the menu taking center stage. Businesses such as Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings — national establishments that offer food — therefore continue to control the sports-bar market, thanks to advertising campaigns touting them as being a sports bar first, a restaurant second. That’s been the natural cycle for as long as sports have been televised.

But establishments in the Lexington area similar to Village Host have adjusted their initial business model along the way to wear dual hats and attract Joe Sportsfan, as well as the family of four that goes out for dinner. More establishments are using the lure of premium cable packages, high-definition TVs and attractive drink specials to drive traffic to their primary revenue streams — that being what’s cooked up in their respective kitchens.

Consider the case of BD’s Mongolian Grill in Hamburg. It is a niche restaurant that has almost taken on two very separate identities. The majority of its business continues to stem from its dining room, but a bar area near the main entrance, secluded from the main dining room, has taken on a life of its own after once being a mere afterthought. It started with dollar-beer offerings three years ago, which drove enough traffic to prompt owners to install big-screen TVs. Things snowballed from there, with BD’s becoming a popular Sunday destination during football and basketball season. It eventually led to a now-defunct karaoke night, and management currently brings in live music regularly during weeknights.

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