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story.lead_photo.caption Alex Belto, with Little Rock-based Dave Grundfest Co., assembles an audiocassette tape facade on a wall of the new Big Orange restaurant at the Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers earlier this month. - Photo by David Gottschalk

Scott McGehee has spent most of his life in Little Rock but one of the driving forces behind the Yellow Rocket Concepts restaurant team describes himself as a "native son" to Northwest Arkansas.

So for McGehee there's special meaning to the company's expansion into the northwest corner of the state.

"I've always wanted to come back here," said McGehee, who was born in Fayetteville. "I have a connection here."

McGehee is getting the opportunity as the Little Rock-based Yellow Rocket Concepts team puts the finishing touches on its latest Big Orange restaurant, which is scheduled to open at the Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers early next month.

The restaurant will be the group's first Northwest Arkansas operation and its third Big Orange, joining Little Rock locations at the Promenade at Chenal and the Midtowne Shopping Center.

But expansion plans in Northwest Arkansas aren't limited to Big Orange. Yellow Rocket Concepts is working to open Local Lime -- a Mexican restaurant -- at Pinnacle Hills Promenade early next year as well. The restaurant group operates Local Lime, Big Orange, Heights Taco and Tamale Co., ZaZa Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co. and Lost Forty Brewing.

McGehee believes taking the first step into the new market with Big Orange was the right move for Yellow Rocket Concepts. The concept was created about 10 years ago after the recession scratched plans to open a higher-end restaurant called Big Orange Cafe. McGehee and his partners pivoted to Big Orange Burger.

"What we decided was there's no reason that local people have to spend $50 per person to have some great dining experience," McGehee said. "I think that theme really runs through all of our concepts. We think we can buy from local farmers and farm families, support other local restaurants, support the community, and still put beautiful, fresh, chef-driven food on a plate. And we can create an environment where you feel like it's $50 to $100 a person."

Big Orange Rogers will be in a 5,600-square-foot building with a seating capacity of about 160. The restaurant features an open floor plan inside and outdoor seating.

McGehee called creative director Amber Brewer the "mad genius of design," crediting her for what the company described as a "farmhouse atmosphere" when it announced the project. Reclaimed wood is a prominent feature and large garage doors are mounted on both sides of the restaurant.

Some of Brewer's attention to detail was evident last week as she and a member of her team sifted through boxes and piles of audiocassette tapes they had been collecting for months.

Brewer was successful in getting her hands on 4,700 of them. About 3,000 cassette tapes from the eclectic mix -- ranging from Tom Petty's "A Face in the Crowd" single to an Eddie Murphy comedy album -- are being glued to a wall in one corner of the restaurant to help establish the style of the new location.

"Analog is a much richer experience," Brewer said, comparing the sound quality of vinyl records and cassette tapes to today's digital alternatives. "So when you do things the analog way you get the full-bodied experience. It's how we do things with our food. There are no cheats. It's the full experience."

Big Orange's menu promises to feature as many locally sourced products as possible through partnerships with farmers and other vendors. McGehee was showing Daymara Baker, founder of Fayetteville-based Rockin' Baker, around the building on Tuesday. Rockin' Baker will source the restaurant's hamburger buns.

Many of the burgers, salads, shakes and cocktails on the menu in Rogers will be recognizable to Little Rock patrons, but McGehee said there will be room for experimentation as well. One example: McGehee said the Rogers restaurant will serve "spiked" milkshakes.

"We're trying a lot of new things up here that we don't do in Little Rock with the absolute intention of migrating it back to Little Rock if it's successful," McGehee said.

David Faulkner, the general manager of Pinnacle Hills Promenade, said Big Orange's arrival had been in the works for a couple of years as Yellow Rocket Concepts considered its expansion plans.

The restaurant, along with Local Lime's arrival early next year, will be among a handful of new dining options along the front end of the mall.

MidiCi, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant, recently opened in the spot next door to Big Orange. Pie Bros, a restaurant that Faulkner said will feature pot pies, is also scheduled to open Dec. 1.

Construction is underway on another significant project as well. Earlier this year, Dave & Busters revealed plans to open its second Arkansas location in the Pinnacle Hills Promenade. Dave & Busters will open in the mall's former food pavilion, which is next to the movie theater, in the spring.

"I think as an industry, (malls) are going to more and more entertainment options and food options to give people an opportunity to come and shop, but then be able to stay and eat and have fun and be entertained for all age groups," Faulkner said. "So as malls go forward, I think you'll see more and more of the food offerings and the entertainment offerings taking some of the space."

McGehee and the Yellow Rocket Concepts team is eager for its opportunity to open the doors to a new market, but won't cut corners to get there as last-minute preparations continue.

That's one reason Yellow Rocket Concepts -- which hopes to kick off operations at its Rogers restaurant in less than two weeks -- had not yet announced a firm opening date as of late last week.

"I want to make sure the first person that walks through here has an experience equal to or beyond anything they would get at our other restaurants," McGehee said. "First impressions are everything."

Photo by David Gottschalk
Last week, Scott McGehee (right), co-owner and chef of Big Orange and Daymara Baker, founder of the Rockin’ Bakery of Fayetteville, examine buns she has baked that will be the type used at the new restaurant at Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers.

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