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John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor
Mar 11, 2020
4 min read
Once a railroad depot, Ricardo’s Grill and Pub now a popular restaurant
In the early 1980s, a team of local developers purchased land off Frankfort Street and the old Southern Railway Versailles depot, then did something really unusual: they moved the depot to its present address at 110 Frankfort Street.
For nearly a dozen years, it’s been Ricardo’s Grill and Pub, according to owner Rick Rader, who purchased equipment used in the restaurant there at the time – Railheads – from Railheads and Ruggles Sign owner Tim Cambron. Rader leased the building until late last year, when he brought the property.
By the time of the big move in 1982 or 1983, the depot building was already about 90 years old, according to Winfrey Adkins, owner of the Nostalgia Station toy and train museum at 279 Depot Street (which is also a former train depot – for the Louisville and Nashville railroad). Adkins, who’d been going to the depot since he was a child, returned daily to watch crews jack up the building and put it on steel beams for the move of about 100 yards.
“They put something down on the tracks – rubber tires, like a tractor-trailer, and moved it across with a truck,” Adkins said. “One day, it was sitting on steel beams, and the next day, it was over across the tracks where it is now.”
It was moved in one piece, Adkins and others said.
Adkins said when he was a student at St. Leo School, after classes he’d walk up to the Southern Railway depot, where he learned about trains from a friendly station agent named J.V. Yocum.
“He’d let me look through his magazines and stuff like that. He had railroad-related magazines, and we’d talk and the telegraph would be clicking away. It was a lot of fun, being a kid back then,” Adkins said.
After the move, the depot building was home to businesses that sold wallpaper, paint, fabric and frames. Cambron bought the property in 2005 and opened Railheads.
Adkins said the building has been added onto over the years, but the overhang wrapping around much of it is an original feature, and once offered weather protection for people waiting to board a train. Most longtime customers have some idea of the building’s history, though many of them are more familiar with its Frankfort Street era.
Last Friday, March 6, former Ricardo’s employee Jasmine Hall and her grandmother, Stella Walton, stopped in for lunch. They eat there four or five times a month, and always together. Walton said she likes the chicken salad sandwiches and Chicken Alfredo (which comes with garlic bread), saying of the latter, “It’s enough for two people.”
Hall was a waitress from 2013 to 2016, and while she’s tried most everything on the menu, is a big fan of the Thai chicken tenders and the homemade pizza cooked in a brick oven during the summer.
“Everything is pretty good, and I’m not just saying that,” Hall said. “We’ve got some really good cooks back there.”
Hall called manager Josh Westfall a great boss, and said she loved working at Ricardo’s.
“We have good restaurants here, but this is one of the best ones …” Walton said.
The other manager, Chad Henderson, said he’s worked there for about eight years. The building has 126 seats inside, with room for another 40 on the patio that overlooks Frankfort Street, with business best between the spring and fall meets at Keeneland, he said. Henderson cites Ricardo’s relaxed atmosphere, Southern hospitality, and a diverse menu with large portions as selling points.
Ricardo’s offers free live entertainment – hometown favorite The Trippin’ Roots has a residency of sorts there – on Tuesdays or Thursdays. “And we kind of vary that, depending on the UK basketball schedule,” Henderson said, chuckling.
When the weather warms, many customers take their meals or drinks on the patio.
Henderson said several key employees have worked there for many years, and many of them went to school together – like he and the bartender on duty at the time. “It’s like old home week, basically,” he said.
In the kitchen, Rey Rayes, who’s cooked there for a decade, was putting the finishing touches on an order of New Orleans Pasta, which consists of pasta, blackened chicken, spinach, tomato, onion, garlic and New Orleans cream sauce.
Asked whether his title was “chef” or “executive chef,” Rayes thought for a moment, then said he wouldn’t call himself a chef. He said he preferred to think of himself as “one of the main guys in the kitchen.”
Asked about the name of his first and, as of yet, only restaurant he’s owned, Rader, who goes by Rick, but whose given name is Richard, chuckled. He said Ricardo is sort of a second nickname given to him by some of his Italian-American friends when he was growing up in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is also where he got his first taste of the restaurant business, as a busboy at Howard Johnson’s.
“I talked to my kids, and I said, ‘I’m going to open this restaurant in Versailles, what do you think I should call it?’ ‘Aw, Dad, you’ve got to call it Ricardo’s.’ That’s how it came about,” Rader said.
Before starting Ricardo’s, Rader owned car dealerships in several Kentucky cities, including Lawrenceburg and Lexington, and was an investor in Bravo Pitino, the downtown Lexington restaurant named for a certain basketball coach. Rader sold the car dealerships before getting into the restaurant business, and said, nearly a dozen years later, that the place bearing his second nickname is doing well.
“ … Business, thank God, has been good, and I’ve got a lot of loyal customers, which I’m thankful for, so I’ve been blessed …” Rader said.