Hidden in downtown Lexington sits a unique urban oasis that transforms into an inviting beer garden and is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat.
The lush greenery that encompasses the Kentucky Native Cafe has been growing for generations. Starting in 1901, a young Carl Michler began development of what would be known as Michler Brothers, named so for Carl's two sons, Charlie and Louis, located on 417 East Maxwell Street.
Through the years, the family business has been passed down generation to generation. Robin Michler, the great-great-grandson of Carl, is just one cog in the machine that is Michler's. Along with his sister Jessamine, his parents John and Claudia, and his WWII veteran grandfather, who, at 99, is still doing the payroll each week.
The business blossomed from the greenhouse and florist shop to include the Kentucky Native Cafe five years ago this summer after Robin returned from being abroad, where he spent two years in Germany, the country his family immigrated from in 1869.
Inspired by the beer gardens of Germany, Robin wanted to emulate something in Lexington that reminded him of the neighborhood-oriented and community-focused outdoor space.
"Each neighborhood kinda has a beer garden. Most of the people are close by -- family is there, friends are there, all age groups are there. I really liked that," Robin said. "When I moved back to Lexington, I kinda missed that causal outdoor social space. So we started putting the gears in motion to make it happen."
While creating the space, Robin wanted to make sure there was something for everyone -- including the kids. In an area tucked in the back is a place for kids to get dirty as they play in sand and dirt and water tables. The kids love it and so do their parents, Robin said.
"Going to a restaurant is stressful because you're trying to get them to sit still, but here, you don't need to put an iPad in front of your kid, they can just run around," Robin said. "The kids can be digging in the sand, pumping water or playing ping-pong, the parents can sit back and relax."
When constructing the Native Cafe, Robin said they did things opposite of what most restaurant owners do. Robin wanted the building to be small and secondary to being outside, with the focus being on the atmosphere created by the garden. They approached it from creating the space they wanted, thinking about the food they wanted to serve last.
The first season the cafe was open, Robin said there was an overwhelmingly positive response from the public. With every new venture, there were some kinks to work out, but he said not a lot has changed since that first day.
"The concept today is more or less the same concept as it was when we first opened," Robin said. "We're just better at."
The food served at the Native Cafe is always fresh and local when they can get it. When it's in season, Robin said they get some of their produce from Elmwood Stock Farm in Georgetown. Their menu items change based on what's in season and what kind of things are trending in the market, such as blueberries and peaches that will start making their appearance next month.
Their staple item that is always available is the traditional German-style Bavarian pretzels with Chive Obatzda beer cheese. Specially made in house, Robin said they roll out the pretzels a certain way to provide a different texture in each bite.
"That is hands down most popular we've sold since day one," Robin said. "We've sold thousands."
Paired with the house beer, Michler Weisse by West 6th Brewery, it makes the perfect appetizer before any meal, or just simple snack while enjoying the scenery.
While at the Native Cafe, one can browse through the greenhouses and check out the many varieties of greenery and flowers available in season.
"What sets us apart is that we take a lot of pride in our design skills. We send our florists to workshops, nationally and internationally, to stay on top of trends," Robin said. "It also makes it exciting for people to shop for flowers because they get to see something different than a grocery store."
Michler's success over the decades has been all about design and service. John, Robin's father, designs gardens for people, helping them to envision their space differently and pairing the right the plants with the right people. It's not just about making money, it's about helping people to think creatively.
The multi-generational business is located at 417 East Maxwell Street in Lexington. Parking is at 446 East High St. with the entrance at the back of the parking lot.
Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.