St. Matthews Jared Matthews Reflects on a Unique Career In Restaurants
Jared Matthews is not new to the Louisville food scene and local restaurants. In fact, Matthews has been a driving force behind some of the most popular restaurants in St. Matthews for the last decade.
Matthews is partner and owner at Equus Jack’s Bourbon Restaurant and Lounge, Lou Lou Food and Drink, and Diamond Street Grub and Hops. He is also managing partner at both Diamond Pub & Billiards locations.
A native of Marksville, Louisiana, Matthews developed a love for entertaining and restaurants early on by watching his father host crawfish boils for the whole neighborhood. One could say cajun food is in his DNA.
“I remember growing up watching my family cook all of the cajun cuisine,” he says. “Most people eat ham or turkey at the holidays – I grew up eating gumbo, crawfish and étouffée on Christmas Eve. We were always the house in the neighborhood to host parties.”
When his family landed in Louisville, Matthews’ first job was at a Dairy Queen at the age of 15. It was the only place that would hire him at such a young age. In high school, Matthews and his high school buddies worked at Figaro’s Pizzeria.
“We pretty much managed that all through high school,” he says. “I absolutely loved it.”
While attending the University of Kentucky, Matthews worked as a bartender at Two Keys Tavern, and then worked as a manager at Columbia Steak House. Back in Louisville he bartended at Harper’s Restaurant, located off of South Hurstbourne Parkway.
“I was just bartending and doing my thing,” Matthews says. “I was 25 years old. A guy I was serving asked if I wanted to manage and promote the bar at Diamond’s.”
A regular at Diamond Pub purchased the bar, and that regular became a good friend of Matthews.
“I became a managing partner at Diamond’s,” Matthews says. “That was 14 years ago, and honestly the rest is history.”
Matthews managed and began to transform the bar into a place that would attract a younger clientele.
“I got the place up and going,” he says. “We got the live music going seven days a week there.”
The upbeat vibe and thriving music scene is what allowed Diamond Pub to continue to grow under Matthews’ leadership. Six years later, Matthews and his colleagues opened a location in the Highlands, where he soon began booking national acts. The new location had a much larger capacity and allowed for a variety of entertainment opportunities.
Matthews’ passion for entertaining guests, crafting cocktails and creating an inviting atmosphere motivated him to eventually purchase a restaurant of his own.
“I was getting older, I had kids, and I wanted to teach them to grow up and learn the business,” he says.
Matthews’ love of cajun food and culture led him to become a regular at Cafe Lou Lou, now Lou Lou Food and Drink. Clay Wallace, the chef and owner at the time, approached him about purchasing the restaurant. The two negotiated for the better part of two years, and just as Matthews was scheduled to leave for a mission trip with fellow church members to Afghanistan, it looked as though the deal wasn’t going to happen.
“I thought, ‘Well, it wasn’t meant to be,’” he says.
However, when Matthews returned from the trip, he and Wallace resumed negotiations and finalized a deal. Matthews partnered with his longtime friend Thomas Barnes Jr.
Matthews freshened up the decor and updated the menu at Cafe Lou Lou, making it one of the more popular restaurants in the area. He drew inspiration from his cajun upbringing, and began hosting crawfish boils, tailgate buffets and Cajun Christmas events in the parking lot. Buzz about the establishment began picking up.
“Lou Lou was going really well,” Matthews says. “I was looking at doing another location out in the Middletown area.”
Around that time Dean Corbett, chef and owner at Equus and Jack’s Lounge, an upscale American bistro, reached out to Matthews.
“He called me and said, ‘You are going to buy my restaurant,’” Matthews recalls.
Taken aback, Matthews recalls telling Corbett he wasn’t interested, but the late restaurateur was persistent.
“My wife and I would frequent Jack’s for a night out, or a great laid-back atmosphere to watch a game,” Matthews says. “I loved it, so we decided to give it a shot. We wanted to keep the old-school tradition very much alive.”
In the spring of 2018, Matthews began taking many of the same steps at Equus and Jack’s that he took at Lou Lou. He kept the entire staff, many of whom had worked there for years, and made some updates to the menu, including lower prices. Corbett died later that year of a heart attack.
Matthews updated the name to Equus Jack’s Bourbon Restaurant and Lounge, and began featuring more than 75 different bourbons. This year he added a lounge in the back called Black Rabbit.
“There’s a bookcase door that leads to a big dark lounge,” Matthews says of Black Rabbit. “We make Prohibition-style cocktails and serve small-bite eats.”
Matthews’ latest venture in the hospitality industry and restaurants is Diamond Street Grub and Hops.
“I always loved street food,” he says. “A concept I always had in my head was to pair chef-driven street food and craft beer.”
The eatery opened last July in a space previously occupied by Mellow Mushroom on Shelbyville Road.
“It’s basically a nod to great street food and craft beer from all around the world,” Matthews says. “We have a 40-beer tap system.”
Matthews’ love of serving others is rooted in his upbringing, and also his Christian faith. He attends Southeast Christian Church, where he is an active member. He and his wife Rebecca have been married for 10 years, and they have four children – Ian, 16, Tristan, 13, Lexi, 4, and Jared Jr., 2.
“Honestly, I’ve just always been a hard worker,” Matthews says. “I learned that from my dad. I always knew I was not the kind of guy to work in a cubicle. I love interacting with people.”
Like many restaurant owners, 2020 has not been kind to Matthews. When the pandemic hit, Matthews, like other restaurant owners, had to sit back and wait, and each day brought new or changing restrictions to his restaurants.
“The constant back-and-forth on capacity and closing times, plus the additional costs of sanitizing items and gloves, are expensive,” he says. “I’m really lucky with my staff. Many of them have been with me for a long time and they are a good, loyal staff.”
One bright spot, he says, is how the service industry came together during the toughest times of the pandemic.
“A lot of people didn’t know if they’d make it, but they had food and a lot of people who were not working didn’t have food,” Matthews says. “That was cool to see everyone coming together.”