The Little Rock food scene is always changing, ever evolving. We track dozens of potential openings monthly, most of them new spots, and watch out for just as many closings.
With the large changes over the past for years, you have to sit in awe at those restaurateurs who have endured not just the latest influx of new eateries, but also the last several rounds. Absorbing the legacy of a place like New Orleans-inspired The Faded Rose, who celebrates their 35 year anniversary next month.
In 1981, New Orleans native Ed David decided to leave Dallas and his career in computer programing and moved his family to Little Rock, Ark., to open The Faded Rose.
“We sold everything we had and moved,” he said. “I was burned out, traveling around doing software development, and decided I wanted to open a restaurant.”
The Faded Rose welcomed its first customers May 10, 1982, in a small, cinder block building at 1615 Rebsamen Park Road, the building that now houses Maddie’s Place.
“I had never been to Little Rock before the lease was signed and we were starting the restaurant,” said Laurie David, Ed’s wife. They moved the month their son Zac was born; 6½ months later The Faded Rose opened.
“Zac grew up in that restaurant. He was practically community-raised by the staff there, many of whom are still staff today,” Laurie said. “Several of our regular customers were like grandparents. They bought him birthday presents and treated him like family.”
A number of those customers have come to The Faded Rose weekly since its beginning. It is the sort of restaurant the Davids hoped The Faded Rose would become.
“I wanted it to be a place that felt like it had been there forever. I wanted people to feel comfortable coming in, feel like they belonged there,” David said, elaborating. “Mostly, too, I wanted to [serve food] at a price where people could afford to come as much as they wanted.”
In the years that followed, The Faded Rose opened in several other locations — first in Texarkana, and then Hot Springs, North Carolina and west Little Rock. The couple also started a couple of non-Faded Rose ventures, such as Zac’s, and Bubba & Garcia’s.
“We never actually set out to open anything other than the original restaurant. Every time we expanded it was an opportunity that fell into our lap,” David explained. “We learned a lot of lessons from opening different locations. It made us a better restaurant.”
Each of the additional The Faded Rose locations had successful runs before closing for one reason or another, with the final west Little Rock location shutting down due to the recession.
David said, “Yeah, we think all the time about opening up another spot. Consistency was always the hardest thing about managing multiple locations. It is the thing that makes the Rebsamen spot so successful.”
While there may not be a new location any time soon, they hope that their new mobile crawfish and seafood boil trailer will help reach new people in new locations. They will be using it for catering events and allow the Faded Rose to expand their reach in ways not previously possible.
Consistency is a key ingredient that has helped them survive as they enter their 35th year of operation, making it one of Little Rock’s longest-operating restaurants with the same owner or family.
In fact, even when The Faded Rose moved to its larger, current location next door at 1619 Rebsamen Park Road, they tried to keep consistency between the locations, down to the front door, along with six of the original tables from the first location opened in 1982.
“When we announced that we were moving, people were so worried we would make a slick new restaurant. We knew that we had to give people consistency between the locations,” Laurie said. David added, “We even had the back bar built to the exact, same standards as the bar in the original location. The carpenter would run back and forth between the new restaurant and the old, measuring to replicate it as close as possible.”
The consistency in taste and appearance has paid off — 16 years in the new location, and people still get confused that they’re not dining at the original spot.
That doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. Zac, now an adult, manages the day-to-day operations of the restaurant and feels current and future success is found in holding on to traditions.
“Reaching a new generation of customers is obviously very important to me. To do that we have to continue to provide a quality experience each time they come in,” he said. “We can do things, like enhancing our bar program and adding to the overall experience, but the food needs to be what people expect.”
Zac said that like him, many of the current customers grew up coming to the restaurant.
“I see people I went to school with, who are my age, who now bring their families here to eat. That is the type of thing I love to see.”
While other restaurants come and go, The Faded Rose quietly anchors good food in Little Rock, providing a consistent place for generations to eat, even if it is a few feet to the left of where it all started.
*Adapted from an original story written in collaboration with AY Magazine in Nov 2015