Photos by Jamie Alexander
Sassafras, a hyper-local restaurant featuring scratch-made Kentucky and regional food with a global influence, is now open in downtown Owensboro. The owners, brothers Matt and Dennis Weafer, say this is just the beginning.
“Something like this has always been in the back of my mind,” Matt, who also owns Niko’s Bakery & Cafe, said. “And my brother and I have always wanted to do something together.”
“We’ve talked about working together for a long time,” echoed Dennis, who owns Fetta Specialty Pizza.
The two have combined their talents to create a new restaurant that highlights the best local ingredients and spirits, where patrons can dine surrounded by local art.
“It’s comfort food,” Matt said. “It’s the stuff that my brother and I grew up eating, stuff from backyard cookouts. That’s the origin of it.”
The dishes are familiar, but often with a twist — like chicken and dumplings, but with smoked chicken and French gnocchi.
“We wanted to remind you of stuff you’d have at your grandmother’s house, but not that close, because Grandma always makes it better,” Matt said. “We want to make sure it’s different enough. It’s not grandma’s chicken, but it’s special.”
Dennis said he’s proud to stand behind any dish they serve, but his favorite is anything featuring their smoked pimento cheese.
Sourcing hyper-local ingredients instead of using more prominent restaurant vendors not only makes the restaurant special, but could also be what keeps it going during uncertain economic times.
“We buy the food from local farmers, and with almost everything, we’re on a first-name basis,” Matt said. “Most of our farmers, we just send them a text, and they come straight from the farm. Suzanne Cecil (of Cecil Farms) brought a bunch of produce down here earlier, and she’s like, ‘I just picked it this morning. It’s still dirty.’ But that’s what I want.”
“It’s a unique situation,” Dennis said. “Large food vendors have anything you’d want, but that changed with COVID. Local vendors have worked out great, and it’s a more sustainable way for smaller restaurants. We can change our menu as the seasons change, depending on what’s available.”
Even the drink selection has local roots, sourcing locally made liquors.
“Kentucky has so many cool boutique distilleries we want to feature and highlight,” Matt said. “We have a handful of gins and handful of vodkas that are made here in Kentucky. Same thing with the beers, with the exception of a few major domestics that people have to have.”
The brothers say this is just the beginning.
“We are all a bunch of food geeks and the thing we’re most excited about is the possibilities of what we get to make,” Matt said. “We want to play around with making our own charcuterie and our own cheeses. We’re going to start bottling sauces and put them up on the shelf to sell.”
After launching with a slow, soft opening to get everything just right, Dennis wants everyone to know the restaurant is ready for customers. “We’re open,” he said, “And I’d highly recommend making a reservation.”