Little Rock has always been an interesting food scene. Like a lot of the middle of the country, we lag behind the coasts on trends. At the same time, it gives us room to see if trends will work out and wait until they are almost perfected before becoming a thing in Little Rock.
Think about brunch a few years ago, we were begging for some decent brunch places, now I am fairly certain my dog is trying to start up a Sunday brunch service in my backyard. Same with the overall lack of coffee shops, wood oven pizza places, and other trends we have seen rise over the past few years.
There are some trends that are certainly going to hit Little Rock in the future, and some that are most definitely not going to happen. Predicting the in between is much harder. So I wanted to sit down and guess what is going to get people excited and cause a stir in the near future. Here is a look at 5 food trends we think will happen over the next few years.
#1 Swanky Donuts
High end, swanky donuts seem almost a given. No plain glazed here, we are talking topped and filled with everything imaginable, then bruleed to perfection. The demand for a high end donut place has grown a lot around town lately, it is just a matter of when and where. The trick for high end donuts to be successful is starting with a really good donut base. I’ve eaten through a few of the top donut spots in the country. Places like Donut Plant and Dough in New York are at the base, very good donuts. Other spots like District Donuts in New Orleans just top their donut with so much it hides a very mediocre donut underneath. For a high end donut shop to make it long term in Little Rock, it needs to be a very good donut to begin with.
#2 Coffee Bar
No I am not talking about a coffee shop. I am talking a space that is part good cocktail bar, part coffee shop. The reason this works is utilization, if done right a place can go from 7 in the morning to 10 at night and fully utilize the property along the way. If done well it is a spot that excels in both while still creating a perfect cross over between the two. Pair it up with some decent food and you have a winner. Several coffee shops have toyed with this idea by adding craft beers to the menu. The natural evolution is to put in a solid cocktail program. Drop it in the right location like Hillcrest or SOMA and it will do very well.
#3 Noodle Bar
There are already some great noodle shops on the fringe. The Arkansas Heart Hospital does a fantastic ramen and Three Fold has put a lot of time and effort into perfecting their noodle portion of the menu. There is certainly an audience for a strong noodle or ramen bar that takes the single dish from other places and blow it out into 5 or 6 strong noodle dishes. It works really well in major cities, and is a high margin business since there is little costs in noodles and stock once you build a concept around it.
#4 All Day Breakfast/Brunch
There are a few more places that do breakfast well, especially with the rise in brunch. It has shown an appetite for that style of food. The problem is availability. Outside of Sundays and until 10 at a handful of locations like At the Corner during the week, you are mostly out of luck. Imagine if someone took the best of brunch and breakfast items and offered it up until 3 in the afternoon 6 days a week (why compete on Sunday?). It would be a winner. Maybe pair it with the coffee bar at #2 and you have something going. There are a few places doing this across the country, mostly from biscuit oriented restaurants that have become a trend. I know a couple of folks in NWA exploring the concept as well. It work in Little Rock and is only a matter of time.
#5 Local Drive Thru
Eating local is easy, unless you are in a hurry. Chains still control the quick service markets, if you need to grab some food on your way out of town or don’t want to get out of your car for whatever reason (mostly kids) then your options are limited to national chains. Sure, there are a few local drive thrus, Chicago’s Phillys & Gyros on South University is good, but it will take 8-10 minutes to get your order. David’s Burgers on Markham and Bowman is fine, but we usually want something other than drive thru burgers. When Heights Taco decided to keep their drive thru window we were extremely excited about the possibility of grabbing tacos to go through the window, but sadly that was never really utilized. This is a wide open market for someone to come in and make a few million a year, it will happen. When it does they will be everywhere.
Those are the top 5. I certainly expect to see a few more things happen, there is a desire for a better Italian spot in town, more ethnic food in general. Will we ever see food trucks rise again? How about a really nice food court area. Let us know what you think the next big food trend will be, drop your opinion in the comments on our facebook post.