LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Nestled on the one block between Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium and Churchill Downs sits Wagner’s Pharmacy. The tag line of the pharmacy/eatery reads “A derby diner, a place where champions gather.”
That is exactly what happened on Saturday morning.
Members of the Louisville baseball team met at Wagner’s to have their game day breakfast before they clinched the super regional versus Kennesaw State.“This place is not only special to the city of Louisville,” long-time employee Joann Hellman said, “it is special to the players.”
To certain players, Wagner’s is extra special.
“Jeff Gardner comes in here three or four times a week,” Hellmann said. Gardner is an outfielder for the Cardinals who evidently cannot get enough of the food at Wagner’s.
The food at Wagner’s can be described as comfort food. You can order all typical fixings of a Southern breakfast, or a specially-made hot honey-glazed ham sandwich for lunch. Obviously, the Kentucky Derby pie is to die for, but surprisingly the most popular items on the menu are the homemade soups.
Especially for Louisville basketball player Luke Hancock.
“I have a deal with Luke,” Hellmann explained. “I call him every Tuesday to let him know if there is any leftover chicken noodle soup, he just loves that stuff.”
Hancock is not alone. Jockeys and trainers from Churchill Downs also love the soups.
“Dallas Stewart comes in every day and orders half a tuna sandwich and whatever kind of soup we have,” Hellmann explains.
Hellmann explained that Wagner’s opened in 1922 as a place for trainers and visitors of Churchill Downs, but has since become more of a Cardinal staple. This can be attributed to the strong connection the pharmacy workers have to the athletes and staff at Louisville.
“I couldn’t work anywhere else, this place is like an extension of my family,” Hellman said. “I know everyone who walks in that door and what they want to eat. We like to be a home away from home for the players. I have actually had some moms from the baseball team say ‘keep taking care of my boy.’ I feel like I am a mother figure for them.”
So much so that Hellman makes special desserts for the players when they ask.
“If they need it, I will make them a banana dump cake,” she said, an item that is not on the menu.
“I have never met such polite young men as the baseball players, they even help us around here sometimes. It is only women who work here, so if they see we need help carrying something, they will help every time.”
You better believe Hellmann and the rest of the staff will be cheering on the Cardinals while they are in Omaha.
“If there is a Louisville game on while we are open, we put it on the big screen,” she said. “That is why we bought the bigger TVs for the diner a couple of years ago, so we could watch all of the NCAA tournament and College World Series games.”
Wagner’s Pharmacy is a place where champions gather, certainly champions from this super regional.