We have watched the restaurant scene ebb and flow over the years in Little Rock. Some years the story is all about growth, as it was in 2014-15 as we watched a huge number of new restuarants emerge on the scene. Some years it is about refinement, like last year where very few restaurants opened, but everyone seemed to work to improve on existing restuarants.
This year the theme seems to be expansion. More than half of the places we are tracking that are opening or have opened are additional locations, or expansions of current locations. It is reflected well in new spots like Blue Sail Coffee opening a shop in Little Rock, or Mylo adding another seating area, a roastery, and eventually a new restaurant.
Of the major openings we are tracking, only one is from a completely new owner (The Dive in Conway), the rest are from existing restaurant groups. In all the expansion this year should be fairly safe, with solid concepts opening by experienced restaurant groups.
Still, it seems like every year there is an off the radar restaurant opening that surprises us, like Three Fold a few years ago, and Honey Pies last year. That said here are the top ten places we are looking forward to this year.
District Fare – District Fare seems like the logical slam dunk of the whole group. Owner Tomas Bohm is a proven winner with his Pantry restaurants, and Hillcrest Artisan Meats was a huge success in the same space with a similar concept. Unlike all the others, we have a preview of this space and it looks excellent already.
Expected Open: Next week.
Loblolly Creamery – Loblolly has set up shop for the past several years inside the Green Corner Store. Now they are taking loveable ice cream next door to set up shop of their own. The new space will feature up to 32 flavors, later hours, and a cafe. There are a lot of future ideas surrounding the space as well that should keep everything fresh and alive.
Expected Open: Early Summer
The Dive (Conway) – I personally believe, and have written about a few times, that the Conway food scene is on the cusp of an explosion. We have been tracking The Dive from new restaurateur Jeremy Holden for several months now. To start I have a soft spot for converted fast food places, the former KFC is looking gorgeous from the photos. The menu should be strong with a heavy emphasis on smoked meats, the bar side looks to be shaping up nicely as well.
Expected Open: Early May
New Three Fold Noodle and Dumpling Co – Three Fold was a runaway hit when they opened a couple of years ago not only for all of us, but for the owners as well. They quickly found the limitations of the space and it conflicted with what they wanted to do. After looking all over town for a new spot, they finally settled just a few blocks away on Main Street. The new space will keep a lot of the same concept, but will open up for more opportunities at dinner where a sitdown service will likely happen.
Expected Open: Late Summer
Honey Pie Expansion -Honey Pies took off like a rocket. I remember sitting around with owner Sharon Woodson a few days before opening and the neighboring spot that they were subletting from closed up unexpectedly, leaving Honey Pies with a full kitchen and a second space more than double the size of their own. At the time she had no clue what to do with the excess space, but rapid growth quickly answered that question. It is inevitable that they will end up utilizing that space now in some way, likely through a serious expansion given how full the existing space is at any given time. There are no finalized plans yet, but expect it to move fast once they decide.
Expected Open: Late Summer/Fall
Afterthought/Mylo’s New Restaurant – When Mylo Coffee Co quickly snatched up the defunct Afterthought next door, you knew it would be good. They have slightly expanded their coffee shop business into the space, but the best is yet to come. We are hearing a menu centered around a wood oven, as always you can expect fresh, local ingredients. My guess is this will be less of a pizza joint, and more along the lines of Oven and Tap in Bentonville where they just happened to cook everything in the oven. Either way we should find out soon.
Expected Open: Late Summer/Fall
Petit & Keet – Speaking of spots that did not stay on the market long, the former 1620 in West Little Rock was taken over quickly by restaurateurs Louis Petit and Jim Keet. Keet is known for serving as president of the Taziki’s chain of restaurants that spread across the south. Petit has an even longer, though not as recent, history in Little Rock food. His time spreads back to Jacques & Suzanne that still comes up constantly despite closing in 1986 and later Cafe Prego before leaving to open a couple of spots along 30A in Florida’s Gulf Coast. Not a lot has come out about the menu, but we expect the chatter to pick up soon as construction is nearing completion.
Expected Open: May 18th
Kamikaito – What was previously an expansion of West Little Rock’s Kiyen’s has expanded a bit since announcing the move to the previous Good Food location in Argenta. The menu will stick with the Asian fusion style of Kiyen’s, but possibly introduce some new elements. At this point we are sort of waiting to see, information has been slow to come out. Argenta is in need of a good anchor restaurant at that end of main street, and this could fit the bill well. Construction seems a bit behind considering we were originally told this would be open last November.
Expected Open: Sometime before the end of the year.
Midtown Billiards – We get more questions on the Midtown reopening than anything else. Here is what we know: They are completely rethinking the interior, going with a cleaner look than before, while still retaining the dive style. My guess is that their sister bar, Four Quarter, is a good indication of the direction they will go. I can’t imagine Midtown being too swanky, but even if it is people will still love it all the same.
Expected Open: Summer
Heights Corner Restaurant – Mark this one down as the potential breakout star of 2017. The former Terry’s Finer Foods location reopened late last month as the Heights Corner Store, as a part of that they decided to revamp the restaurant portion as well and call it the Heights Corner Restaurant. We do know the chef and the concept, but we are sworn to secrecy. Here is what I can promise you, the crew coming in is very good and they will be bringing some outstanding food with them. I think the culinary team, the concept, and the history in Little Rock all fit the new location very well. It should be a popular spot in the Heights.
Expected Open: Summer