The city of Louisville has an extensive range of dining options, ranging from pizza joints to some of the top restaurants in the commonwealth, and even the country. Although we love patronizing our regular hangouts and culinary mainstays, it’s always a tasty treat when restaurateurs take the plunge and open a new establishment.
This past June, after waiting several months for the governor to allow restaurants to re-open, a new place kicked into gear, offering patrons meals that taste as if they were cooked at home by your dear mother. This is Moya’s American Kitchen, and the proud owner is 67-year-old Prasad Kaza who is originally from India.
Kaza has quite an interesting story as his path from India to Louisville had a few twists along the way. He’s lived in the midwestern, eastern and southern parts of the country, making his home in places such as Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee and New York. He’s been in Louisville for 15 years, and it was an unfortunate turn of events that actually brought him to this state.
“I had been in New York when 9/11 happened and it wiped out my business,” Kaza explains.
He had been the owner of a Thrifty Car Rental for eight years, and says that in August of 2001 he’d actually had his best month with rentals. After the attack on the World Trade Center, he had to shut down.
“I had to close that business and find something else to do,” he says.
An opportunity opened up and he was offered a job at Back Yard Burgers on Blankenbaker Road, and he’s currently part owner of that location. This opportunity fit in well with his past work experience, as he’d been part owner of an Arby’s restaurant and owner of a Dairy Queen, so he knew the restaurant industry quite well.
It was about two and a half years ago when Kaza had the idea to open his own full-service restaurant. He was familiar with the building where Moya’s is now located, and it had been sitting empty for nearly a decade. He also knew the owner of the building, so he contacted him to express interest in purchasing the property.
“From people who’ve come in here, we’ve learned that this place opened in the ’70s as a Steak and Ale, and then it became an Annabelle’s,” says Moya’s General Manager Chris Cunningham. “But the most known tenant here was Tumbleweed’s. Any time someone asks, ‘Now, where are you located?’ I’ll say, ‘Do you know where Tumbleweed’s used to be in Plainview?’ and they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah!’”
Putting the restaurant together for its grand opening took a great deal of work.
“We had to redo the inside completely because the restaurant had been vacant for so long,” Kaza explains. “It’s really unique inside. It has a lot of woodwork all over, and there’s a grand staircase that splits into two different directions that leads to the upper floor. We had to re-sand every part of the wood and put on a fresh coat of varnish. The light fixtures have been changed. The kitchen had to be redone, and we had to replace the carpets and tile, and work on the bathrooms.”
They also had to repave the parking lot and refurbish the outdoor wooden deck.
“We get a lot of compliments about the look of the restaurant from our guests,” Cunningham says.
According to Cunningham, the two-story structure has an inside occupancy limit of 250, with room for 200 on the bottom floor and 50 on top.
“The upper story is shaped like a big square, kind of like an open loft, with a hole in the middle where you can look down on the bar below,” he says.
The restaurant also has plenty of seating outdoors, and when weather permits, guests can sit on the front porch, in the parking lot, and on the huge deck that overlooks a pond filled with ducks and geese. The additional outdoor seating provides room for at least 100 patrons.
Although Kaza is from India, he wanted to open a restaurant that appeals to the American palate.
“There are a lot of Indian restaurants here, but the way I looked at it is that I wanted a place with nice southern-style, family-cooked meals,” he says. “When I looked around in this area I didn’t see many places like that. I wanted this to be a simple place with quality food at a reasonable price. That was my baseline before I did this. We did a lot of research. Sysco Foods helped us and we hired a professional chef to finalize our menu.”
The menu is plentiful with lots of locally inspired dishes to choose from. For starters and appetizers, they serve coconut shrimp with citrus mustard, pickle chips, fried green tomatoes, an onion-ring tower, jalapeño hushpuppies, as well as chicken-and-biscuit sliders. You can also sip on some of their homemade soup, like grandma’s tomato soup, or have heartier fare like Moya’s chili. When you dig into their entrée menu you’ll be tempted to try everything, like the smothered pork chops, catfish dinner, meatloaf stack, loaded mac and cheese, or beef stroganoff. Desserts include house-made chocolate cake and cheesecake, and they will soon have what Kaza calls their ‘crazy shakes,’ which will surely be a delightful treat.
“When I started this project a couple of years ago around Christmas time and my family was together, they started asking me what I was going to call the restaurant,” Kaza says. “I told them I wasn’t sure and that I had several names in mind, but nothing concrete. My daughter-in-law and son asked, ‘Why don’t you name it Moya’s?’ Moya means uncle in the Indian language.”
Besides offering a great place to have lunch or dinner, Moya’s has also become a go-to destination for great entertainment. The idea to bring in music acts was Cunningham’s brainstorm.
“I remember when Prasad was interviewing me to be his GM, he brought me in to see the progress that had been made on the building, and I kept looking over at the deck, and he asked me what I was looking at,” Cunningham says. “I pointed to the deck and I told him that area is going to be a big draw for his business, and that he needed to bring in live music.”
Cunningham believes the restaurant experience is much more than just the food.
“It’s the service, it’s the entertainment, and it’s the feel and the ambience,” he says. “So, once I was hired I started to book music acts.”
Various local acts have made their home at Moya’s. One regular performer is Emily Lancaster, a singer and guitar player who is only 16 years old.
“She’s so mature and handles herself so well,” Cunningham says. “One of our favorite groups is Kimmet & Friends. They’re so lively and they get everyone up dancing.”
Kaza is extremely thrilled to finally have his new restaurant up and running, and he is not shy about expressing his feelings about his adopted country and the help he’s received.
“What I really want to emphasize is this is really the greatest country on Earth,” he says. “It’s not only the country, but the people here have been very good to me. A lot of people have helped me along the way. In this country, if you work hard, you can do whatever you set yourself to. I’m a prime example. I came here with hardly anything, and I built myself up and then lost everything during 9/11, but then I was able to get things going again.”
With covid, Kaza faced obstacles that he hadn’t foreseen when he first started down the path to opening Moya’s.
“It has been a challenging road that began in early 2020 when our original March Grand Opening date was pushed out due to the pandemic,” he says. “Then we opened in June believing the pandemic would end sooner than it has. When the governor shut down restaurants in November we made the difficult decision to remain closed until the time was right to reopen to ensure our long-term longevity and eventually set a date of Feb. 25 to reopen. The outpouring of support for our Moya’s family has been amazing. From donations made to help our team members get through the shutdown to inquiries every single day wondering when folks would be able to come back to enjoy the food and the environment of Moya’s, the support has been incredible.”
Moya’s American Kitchen is located at 10000 Linn Station Road in Louisville. For further info, call 502-496-6692 or go to moyaskitchen.com.