Often the greatest efforts in a restaurant happen behind the scenes, and Liv Thompson, Kitchen Manager at Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom, knows this well.
The Stuttgart native grew up surrounded by cooking, observing her family matriarchs craft meals while also spending time in her dad’s barbecue joint.
“He made the most amazing barbecue – he used four different types of wood … so I’m a total barbecue snob,” she laughs.
Beyond sampling the food, she also begged to work in the kitchen washing dishes and whatever else she could do as a ten-year-old. “I loved being in the restaurant, because honestly, Stuttgart was boring,” she says, “My brother and I were just kids, and I loved being around different types of people.”
She continued to work around food through college when she joined the Mazzio’s team in Conway. Initially, they had her working in the front of the house, but she begged to be in the kitchen, and they finally relented.
“I really thrived there. They let me get pretty creative – it was a lot of fun,” she remembers.
During that time she finished up her degree in communications with a plan to work as a DJ for a radio station. She got a job and worked in the field for a little over five years, but things were changing.
“I loved the radio … I grew up in the ‘80s and back then radio DJs were so cool. All these guys were talking about music and it was awesome – but radio is so different now and it was already changing back then,” she explains.
Needing an entire change of scenery, she and her husband moved to Fayetteville. Thompson turned back to food and began working at Bordino’s. “This was back before Bordino’s relocated,” she says, “I loved that change of pace, getting back into serving.”
She felt at home there, as she says, “Joe Fennel, the owner, is one of those people who has really taught me what it takes to run a restaurant.”
While she liked Fayetteville, it wasn’t long before she was back in Little Rock, a place where she truly feels at home. She nabbed a job at the original Ferneau’s on Kavanaugh, and within two years had worked her way up to lunch manager. That was a big step, as she says, “It was my first management position, and I was ready for it.”
While she enjoyed her job, Ferneau’s was closing, and she needed to find something else. She was offered a management position at the Whole Hog Cafe in North Little Rock, which turned out to be an excellent move.
She quickly became tight with owners Rich Cosgrove and Nancy Green – “I love them, they’re amazing. They really taught me what it takes to be successful in the restaurant industry.”
After working three years at Whole Hog, Thompson worked brief stints at Local Lime before returning to Bordino’s, as she and her husband moved so he could attend graduate school.
Around that time, she found her way back to the kitchen at Farmer’s Table. “I worked their cold line,” she remembers, “They let me get super creative and it was nice to be back in the kitchen again.”
In fact, she liked it so much she wanted to stay in the kitchen when she and her husband moved back to Little Rock. She worked front of the house at Heights Taco & Tamale before landing a kitchen position at the Fold: Botanas & Bar with Alex Smith. “I got to work the cold line and had day shifts,” she remembers, “It was awesome.”
Thompson would likely still be at the Fold, if it wasn’t for the opportunity she was presented to take her talent and skills to the next level as Kitchen Manager for Raduno. As soon as she started, she hit the ground running.
Her first move included revamping lunch service, because while the restaurant was open for lunch, there wasn’t a specific menu.
“This is South Main – it’s hard to get people over here even though it’s so close to downtown,” she explains. “We have more restaurants per capita than most places in the US, so we have to give them a reason to come over here, and so, we gave them that reason.”
Since then, lunch has really taken off, and so has brunch, which Thompson says, “is insane – even on Saturdays.”
She’s found a niche for herself in the Raduno kitchen, and she loves every bit of it – from creating delectable meals to the entire team she works with. “The people I work for and with make life amazing,” she says.
Thompson relies on past front of house experience to keep things running smoothly at the eatery. For instance, she keeps an open line of communication with the servers, because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
“My servers aren’t scared to ask for anything [from the kitchen]. I will do anything for any customer that comes into this restaurant. … All of the servers know this – we’re a restaurant and it’s what we do.”
She also loves to venture out into the dining area to occasionally check on folks.
“One of my favorite things to do is to talk with customers, even if there is a problem,” she explains. “If someone is not happy with something, I put on an apron and head out to talk to them to set it right.”
As far as living in Little Rock goes, Thompson is sold. She’s moved around quite a bit and still considers the Rock her home. “We’re doing such a great job – we have a great music, art, and food scene. I think we’re underrated,” she says.
When she gets the chance, she loves to head to Taqueria Karina, Mike’s Cafe, and Four Quarter Bar for food, among others. Otherwise, if she’s not working, she’s likely outside.
“It’s amazing. You can literally drive 20 minutes out of town and you’re out in nature,” she says.
As for the future, Thompson believes one of the biggest secrets to success is keeping an open mind. “I’m never going to be where I predict I’m going to be – I learned that a few years ago. You just kind of fly by the seat of your pants and enjoy life for what it is.”
Nevertheless, you can bet Thompson will likely find a way to continue creating beautiful food for the masses.