Lexington’s Coles 735 Main serves up hospitality and eclectic dishes
“We are passionate about good food and good service, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” executive chef and owner Cole Arimes says about Coles 735 Main. “We are casual enough that you can put your feet up and have a good time.”
Arimes has come full circle, returning to the Mentelle neighborhood of Lexington where he grew up after spending nearly 20 years learning the trade in some of Cincinnati’s best restaurants.
He, along with his uncle and partner Richard Turnbull and family, opened Coles in April 2012.
Coles 735 Main is unique “because we have a zero VIP policy. Anyone who comes in will get treated exactly the same no matter who you are,” Arimes says. “It’s our hospitality and food that sets us apart.”
Arimes’ love of food and an insatiable appetite was the impetus that led him to cook, but his family upbringing was the main reason he gravitated to cooking.
“My mom and both of my grandmothers were fantastic cooks. My Dad’s side of the family was Greek, so I always had delicious Greek food. With my mom working and everyone always busy, I started to learn how to cook things that I could do on my own.” he says.
In 2019, they opened Epping’s on Eastside, with its family-friendly Poppy & Olive concept tucked inside.
Arimes says wife, Susan, was integral in the functions of Epping’s and Poppy & Olive, as he had opened Coles before they were married. The restaurant’s name has a unique tie to the couple’s two children. “We kept our kids’ gender a surprise during pregnancy,” he says. “We found out about our daughter, Hurst, when she was the size of an Olive. When we found out about our son, Park, he was the size of a poppy seed. We call it Poppy & Olive for that reason.”
Local and eclectic menu
Known for grass-fed steaks, Coles’ eclectic menu showcases the chef’s French and Japanese-style dishes. The Panko Fried Avocado with Crab Salad is Coles’ most popular appetizer.
As a Kentucky Proud restaurant, Coles sources food from local farmers, planning menus around what’s in season.
“Right now, our farmers are bringing us a lot of winter vegetables, a lot of root vegetables and greens. Squashes have been prevalent throughout the menu at both places,” he says.
The restaurant group maintains a relationship with local farmers, who specialize in different things. “We’ve got foragers and people who actually grow the produce. Mushrooms have been very prolific the last month or so. All of our menu designs are based around what they have available. And you never know what that’s going to be.”
He says, “We do a lot with Marksbury Farm (Lancaster) and Farmer Joe’s (Salvisa), a lot of duck and grass-fed beef.”
Typically the problem is that an individual farmer might not have enough to put it on the menu for long term, he says, “So we do a lot of features when we can get it.”
Coles 735 Main is also known for its seafood. Arimes says the shrimp and grits has always been popular, and there’s always salmon on the menu.
Breads are baked fresh daily, and local meats are cured in-house.
Learning the trade
While Arimes did not attend culinary school, the many years in the kitchen of some of the region’s top restaurants is what honed his skills.
After a couple of years at Centre College, Arimes says he moved to Cincinnati to help Joseph-Beth Booksellers open up that market and he wound up working in the cafe. Later, at Don Pablo’s he worked in the kitchen making all the sauces and marinades and doing prep work.
“I then joined up with the Maisonette Group with Chester’s Road House, a steakhouse, and worked there a little over five years. I started as a salad cook and ended up as a sous chef,” says Arimes. “I worked with a lot of great chefs. If you look at the list of chef owners in Cincinnati, half of them came through that group.”
His next 12 years were spent at Trio, “an upscale, casual anything from pizzas to prime filets and seafood features” and their steakhouse, Embers, “a steakhouse wrapped around a sushi bar,” he says.
It was then that Arimes says he decided it was time to not work for someone else but to do his own thing, so he returned to Lexington to open Coles 735 Main.
Arimes’ advice to anyone thinking about going into culinary school: “Get a business degree and get your foot in the door in a kitchen. Most people who come out of culinary school have a pretty good basis of food knowledge, but they don’t know how to apply it practically in a restaurant,” he says. “On a Saturday night, you’re going to cook for 230 people and it’s all about experience at that point.”
Wine and spirits
Coles’ handcrafted cocktails feature unique, house-made ingredients and there are hundreds of bourbons available for tasting, along with an award-winning carefully curated wine program.
Director of Operations Chris Hutchison keeps Coles, along with Epping’s on Eastside and Poppy & Olive, running smoothly. As a certified sommelier, he is the creative mind behind the restaurants’ wine and spirits programs.
Hutchison grew up surrounded by phenomenal cooks in Pikeville. After years in the industry, it is still his love for food and all things distilled or fermented that keep him inspired every day.
More recently, with restaurant changes brought on due to COVID-19, Coles has created what Arimes calls its “greatest hits menu. What’s on the menu right now are the majority of our popular dishes over the year. We decided to do a throwback and get back to our grassroots.”
Coles, open Monday through Saturday, has created family dinners will soon offer take-home meal kits with signature cocktails.
The restaurants offer both private events and catering, and will serve food offerings menus at either restaurant since they are in such close proximity.
During normal times (pre-COVID-19), Coles employs approximately 38–40.
Arimes says, “Coles is definitely family. We still have a couple of original hires there, and the majority of our staff have been there for four to six years. We treat everyone who comes in the door like family. It’s a really tight-knit team.”