Ouita Michel, Owner
Ouita Michel has always made locally grown ingredients a priority in her restaurants.
That’s why the cuisine is so good.
"For me, while studying French and Italian cuisine, I realized they use local agricultural artisan products in their food. And that's why it's so good. That's why from the beginning of wanting to be a chef, I've committed to supporting local agriculture. Buying local is a tradition that we seemed to abandon for a few decades. I love cooking straight from the garden."
She and her husband, Chris, bought the Holly Hill Inn in 2000 and opened the fine dining restaurant in May 2001. Michel’s use of locally sourced foods both helps sustain Bluegrass family farms and provides her customers only the freshest, best-tasting fine cuisine. The devotion to local foods is evident also at her other restaurants: Wallace Station Deli just outside Midway; Windy Corner Market and Restaurant and Smithtown Seafood, in Lexington; The Midway Bakery, Midway; and Woodford Reserve Distillery outside Versailles, Ky., where Michel is chef-in-residence and operates Glenn’s Creek Café and Glenn’s Creek Catering. Her latest restaurants, Honeywood, and Smithtown at the Summit, opened in 2017 at the Summit at Fritz Farm development in Lexington. Michel will open her eighth restaurant in downtown Lexington’s renovated courthouse in 2018.
Her restaurants have purchased almost $3 million of Kentucky-grown meats, dairy products, fruits and vegetables over the last 17 years. Her reputation and commitment to sustainability have earned speaking invitations and awards from local, regional and national organizations.
Michel’s work earns accolades from local and national fans of her cuisine. Bourbon aficionados will find her restaurants along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — watch for Bourbon in some of the menus! She has been a James Beard Foundation Award nominee as Outstanding Restaurateur and as Best Chef Southeast numerous times, competing against chefs in major metropolitan areas. Michel is an alumna of the James Beard Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, a collaborative for chefs who work to improve the world’s food systems. Michel and her restaurants are regularly featured in local and national media, such as The New York Times, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Food Network and Cooking Channel.
Active in her community, Ouita Michel is a member of Slow Food USA; Les Dames d’Escoffier; free community supper programs coordinator for Midway Christian Church; board member of FoodChain, a non-profit food incubator in Lexington, Ky.; Hindman Settlement School, which is dedicated to enriching Central Appalachian culture; and is a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a statewide citizens group working to improve education for Kentuckians. Recent honors include the Fayette Alliance Agricultural Excellence Award and the Bluegrass Tomorrow Josephine Abercrombie Award, the group’s most prestigious honor, given to a person who contributes tirelessly to improve quality of life in the Bluegrass. She, Chris and their daughter, Willa, live in a 200-year-old cabin with an expansive garden adjacent to the Holly Hill Inn.
Devin Armstrong, General Manager
Like so many on Ouita Michel’s team, Frankfort (Ky.) native Devin Armstrong began to love the art of cooking while in a grandparent’s kitchen. His grandfather Ernie Cowen was a longtime chef at the Frankfort Country Club. Cowen, who was self-trained, worked as a sous chef under French and German chefs in the ’60s, then led kitchens in Ohio as a chef before returning to Frankfort. It was Cowen who taught Devin how to rock a knife when he was 7 years old.
Devin has worked since he was 14, starting in restaurants, then to Kroger, where he worked during college. In 2009, Devin headed to the West Coast, working mostly on farms. He lived in Northern California for four years and grew to love horticulture and the process of creating food. He returned home to Frankfort and restaurants, cooking and working up to management at Buddy’s Pizza, Wallace Station and now, Windy Corner Market. Devin and his fiancee, Nicole, live in Frankfort.
Sean Willoughby, Chef
Windy Corner Market chef Sean Willoughby developed his cooking skills around meats: prime beef in Georgia steakhouses, fresh lobster in Virginia seafood joints and links and patties at Bob Evans. A two-year stint at a la Lucie, a now-closed fine dining restaurant in Lexington, fueled Sean’s culinary imagination, and not just with meats. “Working at Lucie’s also showed me that you can have a great effect on someone’s day just by doing a little something extra to make a meal special,” Sean said.
But Sean prefers the high volume and quick pace of a fast casual restaurant like Windy Corner Market, where he’s worked since 2013.
Sean also likes working at Windy Corner because the kitchen staff has some creative freedom, and they get to use local ingredients. Like meat. “I like Stone Cross Farm (burgers, pork, bacon, sausage) because they provide a great product that is reasonably priced, and the farm’s owners will go out of their way to ensure customer satisfaction.”
Sarah Smith, Market Manager
Sarah Smith worked at a lot of different jobs before she became part of the Ouita Michel family.
“My first job was as an assistant martial arts instructor when I was 15. After that I did a little bit of everything,” she said. The Nicholasville, Ky., native spent time working at a shoe store, in fast food, at a gas station, and as a secretary at Good Samaritan Hospital. She worked as a registered nurse aide for several years, until 2014 when injuries made it difficult to continue the physical demands of that work.
“Four months after leaving healthcare I began working for Ouita at Smithtown (Seafood), and the rest is history,” Sarah said.
“I enjoy working at Windy Corner because both staff and customers feel like an extended family. It's a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant and it's fun getting to know our regular customers and learning their stories.”