21c, starting in Louisville, Kentucky, is unlike anything the local restaurant scene has seen before. It is a mix of a hotel, contemporary art museum, and a gourmet restaurant. Locals love its unusual feel and overall eccentric experience. The art allows a range of responses. The food is mouth watering, and the hotel has nothing but rave reviews. 21c is best described as modern and inventive.
Louisville entrepreneur and art collector, Steve Wison, and his wife, Laura Lee Brown, also an accomplished entrepreneur and noted art collector, introduced an edgy mix of contemporary art with a uniquely curious menu that featured entrees as difficult to pronounce as they are delicious to taste.
21c became an instant hit and soon developed into an iconic place in Louisville’s downtown restaurant scene. It didn’t take long before Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown began getting contacted about opening new location.
Travel + Leisure, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, and W all praised 21c’s modern hotel and restaurant. Condé Nast Traveler magazine voted 21c Museum Hotel Louisville among the top ten hotels in the World in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards
Shortly after opening in Durham, 21c made the North Carolina news with their restroom sign during the heated LGBTQIA+ bathroom law controversy. 21c’s bathroom sign had a half man and half woman restroom symbol that read, “We don’t care.” That bold attitude characterizes 21c’s brand and, not surprisingly, their menu.
The common thread for success in all the 21c restaurants is hiring and giving free reign to talented chefs. The menu is constantly changing and always pushing the dining envelope with new and experimental dishes that continue to amaze and please loyal and new customers alike. Part of 21c’s culinary genius is drawing heavily from local farmers. In each 21c restaurant, the menu relies heavily on local food.
Durham’s success with 21c won’t be the end of this restaurant expansion, but will be one of the prized early locations of this intriguing culinary story. Plans are already being made for another 15 locations over the next 5-10 years.