The second installment of Graze brings the same farm-fresh meats and vegetables –this time, in a historic setting in the middle of downtown. The restaurant is owned by partners Craig de Villiers, a native of South Africa and Damion Scott, who hails from Alabama. “Craig is Kentucky’s greatest import, and I’m Alabama’s greatest export,” joked Scott.
Graze opens at 11am for lunch and dinner and citywide delivery is available. The menu changes weekly, and features “global comfort food”—think fresh curries with unexpected ingredients like banana (it works!), tempura scallops, “Carolina Fries” topped with pulled BBQ pork, queso and scallions, and their signature bolognaise. Desserts range from classic bourbon-glazed cheesecake to homemade panna cotta with fresh pistachios. Chef DJ Adkins heads up Graze’s kitchen with resident baker Mallory Pfiester providing oven-fresh breads and desserts.
The location on South Limestone (formerly House of Soul) opened in December 2016 and holds about fifty seats, including a cozy, secluded outdoor patio. The décor has been updated to include plenty of natural wood, equine art, original mantles and plenty of period details left intact. The kitchen is barely separated from the rest of the space, filling the room with the smells of searing meat.
Scott and de Villiers were introduced via mutual friends when it became clear that they had the same business goals. de Villiers had worked in the equine industry and Scott as a banker, and both were ready for a change.
“We didn’t want to corner ourselves (into one style) of food,” said de Villiers. Scott added, “A lot of restaurants shy away from that because they’re thinking of numbers and costs. But sometimes it’s just about what you like, and what your guests like –that’s very important as well.”
De Villiers explained that Graze originated as a retail business in Winchester. “Our idea was the reach out to the local farmers for what some would call the less-desirable cuts of meat. “Cuts that don’t always sell as well but are nonetheless delicious, such as lamb belly,” he said. In 2013, he started a small business selling these “alternative” cuts of meat. Since he ended up cooking the meat more frequently than selling it raw, the retail business transitioned into Graze Market and Café, a local meat market with other fresh goods for sale.
That original location at 150 Combs Ferry Road is still open, but only for the occasional prix fixe meal or private events. Animals are no longer raised there; the herd was moved to Georgetown’s Catalina Farm. Scott and de Villiers plan to reopen the Winchester property full-time–but they’re comfortable with growing slowly. “Once we feel comfortable stepping away from (the downtown location) a bit, and find the right partner, we plan to open up again,” said Scott, who joined the company in 2016.
Both Scott and de Villiers agree that the transition from meat market to full-service restaurant was a successful one, and they look forward to where this leap of faith will take them. Scott mentioned his great respect for de Villiers’ vision and his desire to go his own way rather than starting a franchise or restaurant group. “I really love this industry – you have to,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, it can’t be just a job. You have to be part of something.”
“People have been very kind over the years, both Lexingtonians and people in Winchester,” added de Villiers. “We started with the thought of selling meat, and we never considered having a downtown restaurant. But we wanted to make good food that we wanted to eat. It’s been very well received, and we appreciate that a lot.”
Q and A with CraigdeVilliers
Where are you from?
Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
What is your favorite seasonal ingredient right now?
What is your favorite dish at Graze? Favorite drink?
Carolina fries or steak and a Leftbank martini.
What was the last thing you cooked at home?
Lamb burgers with goat cheese, Broadbent bacon and blackberry preserves.
Favorite food from your childhood?
Mom’s roast chicken with gem squash, broccoli cauliflower casserole, roasted potatoes and butternut with gravy to die for!
On days off, what do you like to do?
What would surprise people to learn about you?
I had pet lions as a kid.
Food-wise, what is your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream or chocolate.
Quote you live by?
“Take pride in your work”—thanks dad!