Now that we are a few weeks into 2015 and things are settling in nicely, it is time to look ahead to what the rest of the year will bring. Here are our five big questions for the Little Rock food community in 2015.
1. Can Main Street become relevant again? – For several years now we have heard about the Main Street corridor’s resurgence. 2015 is the year for this, many of the building remodels are wrapping up and restaurants are opening up. Now the big question is whether or not Little Rockers will come downtown after business hours enough to make Main Street relevant again. The early success of 109 & co and Bruno’s makes us believe the answer is yes, but 2015 will tell.
2. What becomes of the old guard? – In the past two years the restaurant scene has exploded. One thing that hasn’t is some of the pillars from the previous restaurant era. Places like Brave New and Loca Luna. Can these places reinvent themselves before they are slowly forgotten about completely? Unfortunately we think the answer might be no here. But if yes, look to places like Bruno’s who experienced a revival with the new location, or Faded Rose that consistently finds a way to remain relevant.
3. Can Diamond Bear stay on top? – While we are on the subject of old guards, Diamond Bear has owned the craft beer community in Little Rock for a very long time. The last year saw huge growth in craft beer in Little Rock however, drastically challenging Diamond Bear’s reign. Add to it the massive output and aggressive marketing by Yellow Rocket’s Lost Forty brand, it seems Diamond Bear is likely to be overthrown in 2015. Can the brand stay the top craft brew in LR? Again, we think the answer might be no here.
4. Can Little Rock support the growing beer industry? – The most frequent question we get with regards to craft beer is, can Little Rock support it all? Arkansas last year ranked #49 (out of 50) for total alcohol consumption per capita. There is a lot of room to grow here, but will the Little Rock area increase consumption along with better local products, or will the area continue to be restrained by desired consumption? We believe the answer is yes, it can be sustained. In fact the surge in local brewers will likely lead to an even larger number of new breweries in 2015.
5. Can Yellow Rocket Concepts success continue? – The other major question we receive is how much more can Yellow Rocket Concepts grow? Yellow Rocket owns 6 restaurants, Big Orange (Midtown and West), Zaza’s (LR and Conway), Local Lime, and now Lost Forty, with a seventh, Heights Taco and Tamale, likely coming next month. If rumors are to be believed, the group may swell to 10 total locations over the next two years. Can they continue the success while still growing? This one we are not sure the answer, the group needs to grow strongly at its core to support growth while maintaining quality at the previous locations.
6. What is next for Hillcrest? – Hillcrest had a strong 2014 by adding Mylo Coffee Co., Kemuri, and Pantry Crest. Now the question is going to turn to see how existing locations can change and perform. Can Acadia capture hearts? Can Afterthought reinvent itself? Can Bosa Nova find an audience at their price point? Can Ciao Baci find consistency? Can So get people to remember they exist? These are the questions we have, and the answers are likely going to be a mixed bag. Expect at least one of these to struggle against heavily the new competition in the area.
7. Is Little Rock primed for an explosion in various Asian cuisines? – The dramatic growth in quality Asian food came quickly, yet somehow with little acknowledgement at just how far we came in 2014. Kemuri, kBird, Three Fold, and Southern Gourmasian all developed restaurants within this past year. What once was a major deficiency in Little Rock cuisine is now primed to turn into a strength. Will Little Rock eaters embrace eastern cuisine? We believe the answer is yes, and even further, this may just be the very tip of what is to come.