On the surface, Conway looks like a city that should have a thriving local food scene. They have a couple of great colleges that bring easy access to entry level workers and a creative spirit, they have a couple of major businesses that could spark an investment friendly atmosphere, and they have a rapidly growing downtown that is the perfect centralized location for a food culture to flow out of. Yet Conway, inexplicably, has yet to have a defining turn in the local food scene that sparks a change in the food scene. Streetside Creperie could be that spot to set the tone for what is to come.
It is not to take anything away from the Conway establishment. Mike’s Place and others do a fine job. However as we have experienced in other markets, it requires a place outside the norm that is willing to take a chance on breaking the establishment and sparking new ideas of what can do well in a location.
For the latest Little Rock restaurant surge, it feels like it was the Root Cafe who in 2011 brought an amazing reliance on farm to table before farm to table was even cool, and did it on a level that was accessible to all. It set off trends of heavy local sourcing that has made it the expected thing to do for local places. In Bentonville it felt like Crepes Paulette that really showcased the turning point. Everything was set up by the quality food that Tusk & Trotter and The Hive brought in, but Crepes Paulette showed for the first time that Bentonville’s food scene could be wildly viral, attracting a level of attention that almost none of us (including myself) thought was possible in a town of roughly 35,000 at the time. Same thing for Hot Springs with Deluca’s, very few people went from Little Rock to Hot Springs just to eat before Deluca’s blew up, now it is a destination.
Streetside Creperie has elements of all of these. A strong local sourcing that could end up building a local food ecosystem, the potential to be a viral hit, and the approachability that a high end place cannot match. Streetside opened 8 months ago from owners Lesley Waterson and Spencer Pearson. Both felt called to start a restaurant that would highlight local produce and help build the food scene.
“We wanted to get into a kitchen because we were both passionate about food, and wanted to source it locally,” Waterson says. “Crepes were an easy way to have a kitchen that was affordable and be very versatile.”
Streetside pulls from around 60 local farms a year by utilizing farm cooperatives like Grass Roots, New South Produce Cooperative, and the Local, as well as directly with local farmers. They focus heavily on seasonal menus, the latest was just released last week, to rotate fresh ingredients into the menu.
For Waterson, who previously worked for New South Produce Cooperative, part of Streetside’s role is advancing the local food community by bringing farmers and restaurants together.
“One of things that New South worked on was getting to secondary markets like restaurants, so it is really nice to be on the other side of that mission,” Waterson says. “I want use Streetside to help establish the secondary market in Conway so that the farmers can stay in business and do what they love.”
Spencer Pearson finds himself on the other side of the business, making sure the food is something exciting enough to cause a stir. He builds a menu featuring a strong mix of both sweet and savory crepes along with daily crepe and soup specials. The result is the best authentic crepes we have had on this side of the Bobby Hopper tunnel.
“We have people who will come from 60 miles out to get our crepes,” Pearson tells us. “We are the only ones around who do it in the classic Parisian style with 16 inch griddles. Our passion is highlighting local food and crepes are a great way to do that.”
Streetside has the potential to become a destination spot for downtown Conway. It has the potential for the viral appeal of many of the other hot spots across the state, while the forward thinking and community building aspects of spots that anchor larger cities. It could be exactly what Conway needs to move the food scene forward. I fully expect Streetside Creperie to be one of those places soon with a line out the door and a knock on effect to local businesses nearby.