By now many of you have heard, the famous Cotham’s Mercantile in Scott caught fire late last night and was destroyed in the fire. There were no injuries reported, but the restaurant is a total loss.
This is one that hits home hard for myself as well as many of you who grew up in the Central Arkansas area. The restaurant portion of Cotham’s was an important part of growing up.
As a mid-30’s person, growing up we had countless field trips to Toltec Mounds just down the road. The only thing that made those trips a little less boring for a 6 to 16 year old mind was the mandatory lunch at Cothams.
The building itself was built in 1917 and existed as a general store serving the large farming community in the area. Then, around 1984, they opened a small restaurant inside the building.
My memories of it as a kid were that same small restaurant, tucked away in the back by the oil cans, spark plugs, and small tractor parts. This is long before Cotham’s attracted any level of fame or notoriety. There was nothing fancy, just good food.
Perhaps it is nostalgia speaking, but it seemed better back then. There was something about the cozy confines of a few tables crammed in between shelves of dry goods and parts that made it amazing. Something that always seemed to fall short when I would take foodie friends out to the area years later, even for epic experiences like seeing how many hubcap burgers people could eat.
There were still hubcap burgers then as there is today, but sometime between the late 90s and the mid ’00s Cotham’s converted into a full restaurant with a few antiques and historic items from the Mercantile hayday scattered about. It was clear that a shift happened.
Still, it remained a destination spot, in the same way Jones’ BBQ, Rhoda’s Hot Tamales, and many other historic restaurants around the state have become. It was close enough for a quick trip, but just far enough to remain out of mind for frequent visits.
Cotham’s will be missed. It is another one of the great Arkansas institutions gone. I wish I would have gone one last time, but I suspect that is on many people’s minds this morning.