Local Business Partners Bring New Restaurant and Entertainment to Jeffersontown
Writer / Travis Wagoner
Grab your extra quarters. Vintage video games and classic pinball machines await you — as does tasty pub grub and a beer and bourbon menu to suit any taste. Recbar has you covered on all fronts.
You’ll find the concept bar, restaurant and arcade at 10301 Taylorsville Road in the heart of Jeffersontown. Tony Thomas and Corey Sims, Recbar’s owners and operators, debuted their establishment in April 2016.
“We came in with a certain goal in mind and a number on paper and where we expected to be for the area,” Sims says. “Since then, we’ve come in well past our five-year projection on our sales and volume, which has given us the ability to expand the space that we’re in.”
Recbar initially opened in the 5,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Ann Marie’s Bacon Bar and has expanded by 2,500 square feet. It boasts 85 token-taking video games and pinball machines for any nostalgia-seeking gamer, and most of them cost one 25-cent token to play.
“That alone has made us stand out more as far as the arcade side of things,” Sims says. “It’s become a destination spot for people looking for the biggest variety of classic games to play.”
Not content to succeed at one entertainment and food-and-drink destination, however, Thomas and Sims opened Mac’s Dough House at 10509 Watterson Trail on Sept. 8 in the home of the former Johnny V’s pizzeria. Jimbo Schaeffer, former co-owner of Johnny V’s, approached Thomas and Sims about taking over the space. They asked Schaeffer to stay on as a partner, and he accepted the invitation.
“Tony and I were both of the mindset that if we’ve got the resources to do it, we’re going to expand our little restaurant-bar footprint as big as we can,” Sims says. “Mac’s was sort of a last-minute decision. It wasn’t in the plans to open a new concept within 18 months of Recbar opening. It was just the right place at the right time.”
The business partners took an accurate pulse of what Jeffersontown could provide for a customer base and what people wanted in the area. Opening Mac’s was a no-brainer, according to Thomas and Sims.
“With pizza and macaroni and cheese as our foundation, it was something that was a little different that nobody else was doing that could hopefully draw a good crowd,” Sims says.
He added that he believes they could have more than one Mac’s Dough House. Additionally, Sims and Thomas say that if they open another Recbar, they might expand regionally — possibly in Southern Indiana, Indianapolis or Nashville.
The concept of Mac’s Dough House developed because of the Johnny V’s space itself.
“We felt like if we can drive bodies from outside of J-Town into J-Town, and Jimbo (Schaeffer) keeps the crowd that he has, it would go really well,” Thomas says.
“Everybody kind of jokes that Louisville has a ton of pizza restaurants already, and why would someone open another one?” he says. “With Johnny V’s, we look at it that we lost a pizza place and replaced it, but we needed that special reason for people to come try it outside of just the pizza.”
Mac and cheese was originally an idea for Recbar. Thomas and Sims had discussed offering a loaded mac menu.
“It just made perfect sense to slide in over there (Mac’s Dough House) and combine it with pizzas — two things that every kid loves, with an adult twist,” Sims says.
Mac’s serves 12 pizzas and 11 mac and cheese options, plus 26 beers on tap, 30 canned beers and an extensive wine list. Thomas, Sims and Schaeffer expanded the original Johnny V’s dining area to twice its size. They’re also remodeling the upstairs room for parties and business functions.
Thomas and Sims became friends while working together at the former Lucky Strike at Fourth Street Live in downtown Louisville. Sims became a Lucky Strike corporate trainer and then a manager for Fourth Street Live’s Sports and Social Club. He then managed a Starbucks store in Crestwood before working for the mayor’s office in Louisville coordinating special events and marketing. He left that job when the opportunity to open Recbar arose.
Thomas got his start in the industry at Bearno’s Pizza in Fern Creek. He went on to the former Have A Nice Day Café, where he worked until becoming a manager at Lucky Strike and then general manager at Sports and Social Club, until partnering with Sims to make Recbar a reality.
The two restauranteurs took a gamble opening Recbar despite having sparse funds.
“I’ve always said that you’ll never be able to afford anything until you make yourself afford it, and we made ourselves afford it,” Thomas says.
The first game they purchased – a Golden Tee golf simulator – pre-dated Recbar by many years. While working at Sports and Social Club, they purchased the game to bring in extra income and an added feature to the bar.
“We got the okay to put one in, and we’re still buying new stuff essentially from that Golden Tee money,” Sims says.
Recbar is family-friendly by day, serving lunch and dinner. It’s open to all ages until 10 p.m., when it allows a 21-and-over crowd to eat, drink and game until midnight Sunday-Thursday and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
“As it gets later, our crowd is typically around 25 to 40,” Sims says. “But it’s awesome to see a grandparent bring their grandchild in and show them a pinball machine they played growing up, or a millennial come in that hasn’t seen a Street Fighter arcade game in 15 years.”
Thomas and Sims love the smiles on their patrons’ faces. People are thrilled to see games they haven’t seen in years. Customers get excited to put money in the token machine and begin their gaming adventure on classics like Pac-Man, Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Centipede and Space Invaders. They can also enjoy a menu that takes them back to childhood foods with a grown-up touch, such as Frosted Flake-breaded chicken tenders. The grub can be washed down with one of 16 rotating craft beers on tap, 50 bottled or canned brews and more than 80 bourbons.
After decades in the restaurant-bar industry, Thomas and Sims have no desire to leave it.
“It’s the interaction with people,” Sims says. “From the management side, it was always satisfying to have happy tables. From the ownership side, I can’t describe how good it feels to walk up to a table of people that have had a great night. For them to go home and talk about the product and the place you’ve built – it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.”
Thomas added that he’s been in the industry for so long it’s what he knows how to do.
“It’s the people you meet, stories you hear and memories you make,” he says. “They say the second-best person on ‘Jeopardy’ is always a bartender, and it’s because the stories and knowledge you hear from people is pretty amazing.”
When Thomas worked at Fourth Street Live, he met and entertained many people from outside Kentucky. At Recbar, however, he enjoys building a regular, local clientele.
“It’s awesome to see the people you see around town come in and you know their name,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing that we push to our staff, is to get to know people. Know their name when they come in. Know what they’re drinking on, because you can build on that.”
Among all of Recbar’s games, Skeeball is one of the most popular options.
“The Metallica and Ghostbusters pinball machines are particularly popular, too” he adds. “We have a Bozo (the Clown) bucket-toss game that’s really popular. The fighting and four-player driving games do really well. Pop-a-Shot does well, and then some of the cooler shooting games do well.”
A gamer himself, Thomas, 35, enjoyed sliding tokens into the games at the old Aladdin’s Castle arcades in Louisville, as well as the Southern Sports Recreation Center on Shepherdsville Road.
“The whole arcade era was on its way out by the time I was able to get out of the house,” Sims says. “But the four-player Ninja Turtles game is one that always stuck with me. When we were able to get a Ninja Turtles game for Recbar, it was like Christmas morning. We also have a Simpsons game that’s being worked on, and it will hopefully be on the floor soon.”
Recbar is also in the process of building a private event space for large groups, such as corporate events and birthday parties. Additionally, on the first Friday of each month, Recbar debuts at least one new video game or pinball machine.
So, what sets the Recbar and Mac’s Dough House concepts apart from others?
“Outside of the games that Recbar offers, there’s Main Event, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Dave & Buster’s – concepts that have done extremely well,” Sims says. “At the same time, they’re either expensive or directed just for kids or adults. Recbar has the universal appeal. It’s affordable. Families are welcome. People that are just looking to go out and have a good time at a bar are welcome. We attract a very wide demographic.”
“And we offer quality,” Sims adds. “A quality bar selection, good pub food – nothing fancy, just a good meal to have – and good games. That’s what we’ve built it on, and it’s done well.”
The mac and cheese theme is the initial concept that intrigues people to visit Mac’s, according to Thomas and Sims.
“When they come in, they see it has a warm, inviting feel to it,” Sims says. “It’s something a little different for this area.”
Mac’s has 17 televisions and offers NFL Sunday Ticket. New promotions are in the works, including Mac’s Beer Mob — a “beer mug club” for patrons to get a personal beer mug that will stay at the restaurant. Thomas and Sims say they’ll have beer specials and do educational events with breweries, such as bringing in reps and having exclusive tappings for members.
“We’re excited to be in J-Town,” Thomas says. “We feel like it’s probably two nice restaurants or bars away from being the new bar-hop district where you can come and park and just walk around everywhere. I think the city is working on that, and once everything is set in place, J-Town is going to be where it’s at.”