News & Reviews

Varanese: A restaurant’s success depends on ‘a million little things’ going right

It seems like every week there’s a new restaurant or bar opening in Louisville.

With those openings, we tend to get a lot of detail from the people behind the establishments about how tough it is to find the right space, train employees and generally get up and running.

Opening a restaurant is tough, but it’s arguably much more difficult to keep a restaurant operating for an extended period of time.

So when I sat down with John Varanese, chef and owner at Varanese restaurant on Frankfort Avenue, I asked him what drove his success. Varanese Restaurant has been around for 10 years now.

The secret isn’t one or two big things, he told me.

“It’s a million little things — all the way down to the tablecloths to our live music to the ambiance to great food and service,” he said.

Of those million little things, Varanese highlighted the importance of having a good staff.

“When the staff feels comfortable and are really proud of what they do, it really shows to the customers,” he said.

He said building loyalty with the staff is one of the major lessons he’s learned in the last 10 years. Eleven of the 32 employees at Varanese Restaurant has been there for more than six years.

Having that experience on his staff has allowed him to branch out and open a few new concepts. In 2016, he opened River House Restaurant and Raw Bar and the attached Levee at River House. Both of those are located at 3015 River Road, right beside KingFish. For that project, Varanese and his partners spent about $4 million to transform a former boat-storage facility.

Check out the attached video for more from Varanese. In the video, he also shows us how he cooks up Varanese Restaurant’s Bourbon Barrel Smoked Pork Chop.