There's no business like food business, like no business I know.
Everything about it's enterprising --
Everything the traffic will permit.
Everything about it is surprising,
While costs are rising, and diners sit.
There's no people like food people, their full esprit de corps,
Even when the entree smells like unshod feet,
And they serve you quinoa instead of meat;
Even when the steak tastes like a soccer cleat,
Let's all go out to eat --
Let's all go out to eat!
La Madeleine: Country French Cafe opened in April in Little Rock with a popular patio.
Most folks don't realize it, but there are more than 750 restaurants in the Little Rock metropolitan area, everything from fast-food and grab-and-go outlets to white-table, high-dollar, haute-cuisine establishments that, perhaps surprisingly, would meet the standards of persnickety foodies anywhere.
Around here, eating out is a major form of social interaction and entertainment. Which is why, perhaps not surprisingly, our restaurant coverage columns -- dining out reviews and the weekly Transitions column, which is the primary source material for this report -- are among the most widely read parts of the paper each week.
This is our annual year-end examination of the restaurant business, the highs, the lows, the comings into being and the passings into oblivion. It's a partial list, and the presence or absence of any particular transition should not be interpreted as passing judgment on any particular establishment, just a judgment call.
Requiescat in place
Nancy Tesmer, before moving back to her hometown, Chicago, to become caretaker for her 88-year-old aunt, closed her Lilly's Dim Sum Then Some in the Market Place Shopping Center, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, as well as her weekend-only side outlet, B-Side. Then a couple of steady B-Side customers -- Tom and Barbara Fuge, transplants from San Jose, Calif., to Little Rock -- intervened and are in the process of reopening B-Side for Tuesday-Sunday breakfast/brunch/lunch.
Brandon Brown, co-owner with his wife, Tara Portiva-Brown, of Hillcrest Artisan Meats, 2807 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, are closing the butcher shop-sandwich shop Dec. 31 and selling it to Tomas Bohm of The Pantry and the neighboring Pantry Crest, who plans to reopen it in a couple of months as more of a deli-style restaurant, as-yet unnamed.
Chip's Barbecue, 9801 W. Markham Street, Little Rock, closed July 6 after owner Chris Harcrow, who took it over in August 2013 from the family following the 2012 death of founder Thomas Chipman, filed for bankruptcy. Monday was the target opening date for fast-comfort food restaurant Andy's, which moved in from its previous Little Rock location, 124 John Barrow Road.
Restaurant 1620 Savoy, previously Restaurant 1620, 1620 Market St., Little Rock, closed in January after 26 years. Restaurateur and former state legislator Jim Keet has bought it and has started an ambitious project, with the assistance of Little Rock culinary legend Louis Petit, to create the "polished casual," but not white-tablecloth, Petit & Keet Bar & Grill. Construction and other delays have moved the target opening to February.
The Afterthought Bistro & Bar, 2721 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, boomed early in the year as former Salut! Bistro chef Michael Jones took over the kitchen, but it was probably too little and evidently too late. The landmark restaurant, which opened in 1977 as That Little Restaurant (succeeded in 1984 by La Scala), and the attached bar, which opened afterward (hence the name), closed in May. Stephanos Mylonas, who operates the next-door Mylo Coffee Co., is in the process of renovating it into a performance venue and a restaurant-bar with a wood-burning brick oven.
Donnie Ferneau Jr. closed his Good Food by Ferneau, 521 Main St., North Little Rock, Jan. 30, to become the executive chef at the 1836 Club, a private supper club that opened in the former Packet House, 1406 Cantrell Road, Little Rock. Headed into that Argenta space, which had previously housed the Argenta Market: Kamikaito by Kiyens, an offshoot of Kiyens Seafood Steak and Sushi on west Little Rock's Chenal Parkway.
The Midtown Little Rock IHOP, 101 N. University Ave. at West Markham Street, closed in July, ostensibly for remodeling, but it quickly surfaced -- so to speak -- that what was going to happen was a complete tear-down and rebuild. A recent check of the site shows construction in progress, sort of, but all indications are that they're going to miss their original end-of-year target to reopen.
And Luby's Cafeteria closed its west Little Rock outlet, 12501 W. Markham St., in August.
Rathskeller restaurant Table 28, in the Burgundy Hotel, 1501 Merrill Drive, Little Rock, in February completed a big renovation, including a new, raised ceiling and better lighting, new carpet and some new mirrors, columns and a chic new replacement for the formerly sunken bar that occupied all of one side of the dining room. Chef Scott Rains continues to impress many with a seasonally adjusted, high-end menu.
Brian Kearns (formerly of Arthur's Prime Steakhouse and Ocean's at Arthur's and the Country Club of Little Rock) took over the Simply the Best catering company and Best Impressions, the Arkansas Arts Center restaurant, that had been run by retiring Rob and Martha Best, and converted the latter into Canvas in late September. Kearns' menu, which he, too, will change seasonally, uses as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.
At the end of April, Skye Stratton-Ward, daughter of restaurateur Don Dugan and grocer Tasha Stratton, opened Skye's Little Bistro, 405 E. Third St., Little Rock, between Stratton's Market and Dugan's Pub. In July, the bistro acquired Stephen Burrow, previously executive chef at Chenal Country Club and Forty Two at the Clinton Presidential Center, as its general manager.
In late spring, chef Marc Guizol moved from No. 2 in the kitchen of One Eleven at the Capital, the high-end restaurant in the Capital Hotel, 111 W. Markham St., Little Rock, to No. 1 at the hotel's No. 2 restaurant, the Capital Bar & Grill. The move came less than a year after the former chef de cuisine Arturo Solis took over that kitchen and announced a major menu upgrade. The move also came as part of a package deal that included a large-scale kitchen equipment installation that doubled grill and oven capabilities and improved the flow in a kitchen basically the size of a postage stamp. Meanwhile, the hotel lost the services, after eight years, of Lee Ingold, who in early July took over as general manager of Cache in Little Rock's River Market District.
And lows ...
Ristorante Capeo, 425 Main St, North Little Rock, in May abandoned its brief flirtation with lunch after not even the restaurant's brick-oven, Neapolitan-style pizzas managed to boost daytime business beyond the break-even point. The restaurant continues to offer pizzas on its dinner menu.
William Anthony Mobly, 55, Ciao Italian Restaurant, and better known to his patrons as "Chef Tony," died May 25 after a four-year struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Also on the dear departed list: Doug Wilkerson, Capital Smokehouse and Grill's cook and co-owner, who died July 1.
Breweries, taprooms and brew pubs continued to proliferate across the landscape in 2016:
• Flyway Brewing, 314 Maple St., North Little Rock, expanded its menu to include sliders and high-end nachos.
• Blue Canoe Brewing Co., 425 E. Third St., Little Rock, expanded into the next-door former home of Brown Sugar Bakeshop, opening in early May (just in time for Cinco de Mayo) Taco Beer Burrito, a taproom/Mexican restaurant that incorporates Blue Canoe's beers in its food.
• Rebel Kettle Brewing Co. opened its doors in March at 822 E. Sixth St., Little Rock, serving four year-round brews on tap, with a 10-beer rotating/specialty list and a Cajun-style menu.
• Stone's Throw Brewing, 402 E. Ninth St., Little Rock, added a formerly separate storefront, allowing it to increase taproom seating and add six taps for draft beer and cider, making as many as 14 of the brewery's products available for customers.
• Core Public House, 411 Main St., North Little Rock, expanded its kitchen equipment and its menu to included tapas, entrees and sandwiches, and a specialty burger.
Opening games and gambits
Arkansas' first Dave & Buster's opened in June, a 30,000-square-foot "entertainment restaurant" at 10900 Bass Pro Parkway, Little Rock, east of the Outlets of Little Rock mall and conveniently near the confluence of Interstates 30 and 430. The chain started as a business partnership between Buster Corley and the late Dave Corriveau, who operated side-by-side bars at Little Rock's Union Station in the 1970s.
In the 300 block of Main Street, Little Rock, Bruno's Little Italy Deli, the long-awaited lunch outlet for next-door Bruno's Little Italy, opened in early August after a series of irksome delays. Next door to that, Soul Fish, part of a Memphis-based minichain, opened in early August.
JJ's Grill, part of a Northwest Arkansas-based minichain, in August replaced Another Round Pub in the Rock Creek Square Plaza Shopping Center, 12111 W. Markham St. at Bowman Road, Little Rock, which had closed in February.
And while 2016 still has not seen the long-awaited resurrection of The Shack, pending in a papered-over storefront at 402 E. Third St. in Little Rock's River Market District, we did get information on just what's what from co-owner Tim Chappell (also owner of nearby Gusano's Chicago-Style Pizzeria). Chappell and Joe Finch, who has, over the years, operated about a dozen barbecue restaurants around the state, and who had possession of The Shack brand name, will open it as Hickory Joe's, one of Finch's restaurant brands, using the original Shack sauce recipe and serving Shack sandwiches. No recent word on when.
The Root Cafe, 1500 Main St., Little Rock, is close to the end of its multimonth expansion. The new dining room has opened, expanding indoor seating to 50, and so has a second bathroom. Progress is being made on completing the expanded kitchen, sometime in January by the absolute latest, which will let the restaurant start serving Wednesday-Saturday dinner.
Terry's Finer Foods the Restaurant closed in April, and reopened in November, at 5018 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock. They're serving dinner only for the moment in the original "sidecar" space on the southeast side that had most recently housed The Pizzeria @ Terry's Finer Foods (see below).
Oven so ...
The Pizzeria, formerly The Pizzeria @ Terry's Finer Foods, moved a couple of doors down, to 4910 Kavanaugh Blvd., practically at Cantrell Road, Little Rock, and after a number of permitting and construction delays opened its doors as November turned into December.
Meanwhile, Grady's Pizza & Subs, while keeping its original location at 6801 W. 12th St., Little Rock, in April opened a second location, in a vacated Mexican restaurant (originally a chain steakhouse) in the Kmart shopping center, 10901 N. Rodney Parham Road,.
The Tulsa-based Hideaway Pizza chain opened its first non-Oklahoma outlet in October at 5103 Warden Road, North Little Rock, the west access road for U.S. 67/167.
And in October, Your Pie, which bills itself as "the world's originator of the down-the-line, quick-serve, brick-oven, customized personal pizza," announced plans for at least three outlets in and/or around Little Rock.
Asian with grace
Asia Buffet Sushi, Grill, BBQ opened in early August in four storefronts in the eastern half of the Market Place Shopping Center, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock.
And Lulu Chi closed Oishi Hibachi & Thai Cuisine, 5501 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, in June, eschewing putting in another Asian restaurant (her protege, Robert Tju, had made two previous attempts) and replacing it in September instead with Prospect, a family friendly sports bar/neighborhood hangout. The big move: Breaching the back wall to remove a larger-than-life statue of the Buddha.
A late September fire scorched Midtown Billiards, 1316 Main St., Little Rock, the South Main late-night (until 5 a.m.) pool hall, bar, burger joint and hot spot. A March fire felled Stoby's, 805 Donaghey Ave., Conway. And another March fire destroyed Three Sam's BBQ Joint, 10508 Mann Road, Mabelvale. All three are in various stages of either rebuilding or plans to rebuild.
Wrapped up in chains
Minneapolis-based chain-franchise Dairy Queen is looking at adding a lot more franchise operations in Arkansas, including a pending DQ Grill & Chill outlet in Sherwood and one under construction on South University Avenue in Little Rock.
Memphis-based Gus's World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken in November announced it had closed its west Little Rock restaurant, in the Bowman Curve Shopping Center, 400 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock, focusing instead on its full-service restaurant in the River Market.
Little Rock's second Pei Wei Asian Diner opened in October in the Promenade at Chenal, 17701 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock. Meanwhile, Promenade at Chenal management confirmed in October that the Little Rock outlet of the Smyrna, Ga.-based Boneheads chain was not just closed for renovations -- it had closed, period.
La Madeleine: Country French Cafe opened in April at 12210 W. Markham St., Little Rock.
Eat My Catfish, opened in July in the Breckenridge Village Shopping Center, 10301 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, adding to a minichain with restaurants in Benton and Conway.
KFC stores in southwest Little Rock and North Little Rock joined a growing KFC casualty list. Many of the restaurants have reopened as outlets of Shark's Fish & Chicken.
The seemingly backward footprint of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe that opened in November at 1510 Rebsamen Park Road, Little Rock, turns out to have been, say the developers, because it was the only design that fit the small piece of property, which formerly housed a car wash, while still making it possible to include a drive-through window.
And Conway-based Tacos4Life started construction on a location in Little Rock, opening sometime in early 2017 on a streetside pad between Longhorn Steakhouse and the Boomerang Carwash in the Shackleford Crossings Shopping Center, 2600 block of South Shackleford Road, Little Rock, and unveiled plans for a Benton location, set to open in the spring, at 7821 Alcoa Road, across Interstate 30 from the Alcoa Exchange center.
Style on 12/20/2016
Print Headline: Changes in the menu