John Hassmann, owner of A Taste of Kentucky, says there are two major holidays in Louisville – Christmas and the Kentucky Derby. And Derby might be the more important of the two. For the last few years, Derby orders have topped Christmas sales at A Taste of Kentucky, which has three area stores that Hassmann operates with his wife, Sherry. Hassmann believes the upward sales swirl can be attributed to an increase in Derby parties. He says former Louisvillians carry the tradition with them when they move to other cities. One of his frequent customers is a State Department employee who sometimes orders as early as September because she needs her Derby party supplies shipped to places like Albania, Germany and the Middle East.  

“There are many people like that,” Hassmann explains. “People who we have developed relationships with and they come back year after year. We also find the first time somebody has a Derby party out in the desert – nobody knows what the heck they are talking about. But after they’ve been to (a Derby Party), watched the race, bet on their horse, had a few mint juleps and some Derby pie, it becomes an annual event.”  

Derby is the flood that lifts all boats. Unemployment in Kentuckiana is close to 8 percent, but it seems like every business is looking for extra help during Derby week. Hassmann says he doubles his work force to nearly 60 people in the months before the race. Jim Davis, owner of Martini Italian Bistro, says it’s important for all the restaurants to have extra staff ready to serve patrons leading up to Derby day. Davis is from England but has been in Louisville for 13 years. He says it took him a while to get used to the rhythm of Derby and the way it affects the restaurant industry.

“The thing about Derby day is that everything is calm until after the last race,” he says. “Then everyone in the city goes out to eat at once. We spend weeks getting ready for that wave.”