Rumor Has It

Rumors Restaurant Still Going Strong After More Than Three Decades

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided

RumorsThey say food brings people together, and such was the case for Cheri and Arlen Gustafson as they met years ago when the pair both worked in the restaurant industry. Cheri, born in Louisville and raised in St. Matthews, began waiting tables and met Arlen (aka Gus) when she was 24 years old. 

“We just clicked,” says Cher Gustafson.

After they married, they started devising a plan for opening a unique restaurant of their own—one that wasn’t a franchise. In trying to determine what kind of fare they wanted to serve, they decided to go with what they loved to eat.

“When we travel, we love oyster bars and boiled shrimp houses,” Gustafson says. “We go to Florida. Plus, Gus is from the west coast—Oregon and California area—so he wanted something that reminded him of his past.”

In 1985, they found an old pizza place in Middletown, then gutted it so they could put their own stamp on it. They wanted to create a “getaway” restaurant with a beachy, vacation vibe—a place where when people stepped inside, they felt transported to a happy place. They installed wooden walls and floors and pastel colors that offered a Caribbean flare. 

Cheri and Gus had a tough time coming up with a name for the establishment. Like selecting a baby name, one of them would throw out a suggestion and the other one would shoot it down. Back and forth it went. A couple of weeks before they opened, they still hadn’t landed on a name. When they chatted with different people in the community, they got a chuckle out of the speculation and wild stories people were circulating about what the building was becoming. 

“We thought some of the rumors were funny, so we decided to call the place Rumors!” she says. 

Creating the menu was much easier and a whole lot of fun. It was small initially, but as the restaurant’s popularity grew, so, too, did the offerings.

Rumors“One of the things we hit out of the park from the start is our chicken wings,” she says. The item has been a mainstay on the menu since day one, and customers rave that the wings are some of the best they’ve ever tasted.

“We try to make it as true to a buffalo wing as possible, and we never have changed our recipe,” she says. That strategy clearly has worked as they were featured in the Buffalo Gazette the year they opened. The article said “This is the only place outside of Buffalo, New York, where you can get true buffalo wings.”

Being a seafood place, they of course sell fresh shrimp, steamed oysters and oysters on the half shell.

“We are one of the few restaurants that offers that and for good reason. It’s hard to do,” Gustafson says. 

Peter Rastocny and his family have been loyal customers at Rumors for 20+ years. They love the family atmosphere, the fabulous food—especially the wings, soups, fish and fettucine alfredo—and the fact everyone knows them by name.

“I especially love their Manhattan clam chowder Very few places around here make it so when they do, they call my house to let me know it’s going to be on the menu that weekend,” says Rastocny.

Over the years, Rumors has added a salad section to the menu as well as sandwiches and more entrees. Now, their diverse menu includes more than 80 items. They also have children’s meals and a full bar so that everybody in a party can find something that meets their dietary needs.

“Middletown used to be a little country town, and now it’s a thriving metropolis,” Gustafson says. “We’ve grown with the community.”

Customers of all ages come to Rumors to celebrate milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, high school proms and reunions.

“We are proud to have reached that type of status—to be that important in people’s lives,” Gustafson says. “I can’t be thankful enough.”

The restaurant itself has also evolved through the years. When it first opened, the outside had a little patio over on the side.

Rumors“There used to be a putt-putt golf course and we had little wooden tables over there, but we were so busy that after the first year, we turned it into a lounge,” Gustafson says. Now that that area acts as an additional dining room, the other side is used for a patio.

Through the years, other seafood places have come and gone but Rumors has stood the test of time. Things felt especially dicey in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 first hit, throwing every business owner into a tizzy.

“Nobody was mentally or physically prepared to operate a restaurant during a global pandemic. What we endured was tough,” Gustafson says. “After the initial shock, we just had to step back, say, ‘Okay, this is the hand we’ve been dealt,’ and figure it out. We had to adapt quickly.” 

For instance, it had three days to transition from operating as a sit-down establishment to a carryout-only place. 

“We got through Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday okay, but those days are nothing like the weekend,” she says. “There we were—a seafood restaurant on the first Friday in Lent. We got our butts handed to us on a platter, but after falling on your face, you figure out how to do it right.”

Though Rumors never planned to be a carry-out restaurant, it was forced to adapt during COVID and quickly organized an efficient carryout system.

While many restaurants have struggled to retain employees during the pandemic, Gustafson says that the majority of their team has been with them for a long time. In fact, their manager only recently retired after 35 years at Rumors. A handful of other employees have also stuck with them since Rumors first opened its doors. 

“I love our family of workers here,” she says. “We all work well together and get along like a family does. We argue, bicker, cuss each other out and hug each other.” 

Gustafson feels fortunate to have been a restaurant who weathered the storm and came out the other side. That’s due to the steadfast support of the community. Customers would pull into the parking lot to pick up their takeout order and holler, “‘We want you all to be here when this is over!” The way they did that is by showing up—over and over and over again.

“I’m going to cry just thinking about it,” she says. “It was such an emotional time. We’d see the same customers over and over, and they’d take care of the help royally because they knew everyone was struggling. The outpouring of this community to keep the local businesses going was unbelievable.” 

It’s that hometown feel that Cheri and Gus appreciate so much, and why they never plan to budge.

“Everybody in Middletown knows everybody else. Many families have gone away and come back to raise their families here,” she says. “We’ve watched people come in here with their little kids. Now those kids are grown and are bringing their little kids! I can’t imagine picking a better place to put our restaurant. I’m glad we chose this location years ago. My husband and I could not be more thankful. This is what we were meant to do.”

Rumors Restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, is located at 12339 Shelbyville Rd., Louisville, KY 40243. For more information, call 502-245-0366 or visit

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