Monday, April 25, 2016
We've Got Trouble, Right Here in Derby City
Jay Blevins is missing.
The 41-year-old former co-owner of Louisville's Derby City Spirits (formerly Derby City Shine) is accused of stealing thousands of dollars by renting out an event space at the distillery he no longer owns. He has been missing for several weeks and no one seems to know where he is.
Last September, Blevins and partner Harrison Hyden were in trouble for distilling without the necessary state and local licenses. A year before that, it was all upbeat as Blevins and Hyden looked set to revitalize a shuttered bar in Phoenix Hill, a long-popular Louisville entertainment neighborhood that has seen better days.
It was a large space and they had big plans for it. They said they would be the city's first craft distillery featuring a full line of spirits, including vodka, rum, gin and flavored 'moonshine.' All of their spirits would have a cane sugar base. Plans included an event space, bar, 'mock' casino, and retail store. It all seems faintly preposterous now, in light of the collapse, but even a year ago coverage was glowing in the local press.
Earlier this year, when Blevins and Hyden were unable to sort out their licensing issues, they sold the business to one of their investors. Blevins, meanwhile, started to take deposits to rent the distillery's event space, even though he no longer owned it, and it still didn't have the necessary permits. He still had keys to the place and showed it to people who paid up to $2,500 to rent it for wedding receptions and other events. Catering, he told them, would be handled by a nearby restaurant. When people began to show up for their events only to find the space locked, Jay Blevins took off.
All of that was bad enough, but now with the police involved and the local press taking a hard look, things have begun to get really weird.
In Louisville, Blevins left behind his business partner as well as his fiancée and their newborn son. Since 2009, when he moved to Louisville and started to work at Buckhead Mountain Grill, a chain restaurant with two Louisville-area locations, everyone knew him as Jay, only that isn't his real name. He is really Benjamin Blevins, brother of the real John 'Jay' Blevins, who still lives in Tennessee where they are both from. The real Jay Blevins has made several criminal complaints against his brother for identity theft.
You can understand why Benjamin Blevins might want to pose as his law-abiding brother. Benjamin Blevins has a string of criminal arrests and convictions in both Tennessee and North Carolina, including check kiting, money laundering, breaking and entering, forgery, possession of stolen goods, and...well, you get the picture.
In retrospect there were probably signs. The distillery plans seemed both vague and overly grand. With dozens of craft distilleries opening left and right, the template for doing it legally seems pretty well known. Maybe friends should have become suspicious when he spelled his name 'Blevenzze' on his Facebook page.
So far, only Blevins is accused of any wrongdoing. Everyone else seem to have been taken in by a 'good guy' who seemed to be a hard worker. The new owner still hopes to make the business a reality. We will see but, clearly, the Derby City name deserves better.