By this point it is no big secret how much the Northwest Arkansas food and brewing scene has grown over the past few years. I find myself up there every couple of months and I cannot keep up with all of the openings each time I am up.
With opportunities come jobs. The rapid expansion of the food scene meant more quality jobs than existing talent in the area. As a result a lot of former Little Rock chefs and brewers have made their way to the area. Even more several of them have thrived, making a bigger name for themselves than in Little Rock.
You will notice almost all of these have landed in Bentonville, it is like a mini version of Little Rock most days. It has become a hot spot for former Little Rockers, so if you are missing a dish you once had or a cooking style that seems to have dropped off, chances are it is alive and well in Bentonville. So much so we decided to do a quick roundup of who is making a big splash in the area.
Matt McClure (The Hive) – McClure is in many ways the OG of the Little Rock to Bentonville move, and is responsible for a lot of the chefs who have made the journey to the area. McClure left Ashley’s (Capital Hotel) to open The Hive located in the 21c Hotel in Bentonville. When he made the trek the Bentonville food scene was in an infancy. The Hive along with opening of Crystal Bridges Museum really accelerated much of the development in Bentonville and Rogers that we see today. Oh, and along the way he has picked up a number of best regional chef James Beard nominations, more than any one in the state. He now spends a lot of his time taking on a bigger role with 21c hotels by helping lead the restaurant development in new locations for the high end boutique hotel chain.
Micah Klasky (The Hive) – McClure was smart enough to bring along Micah Klasky from Ashely’s as well on the journey. Klasky is an outstanding chef who has really shown his talents as the chef de cuisine at the Hive. Klasky has really helped the Hive gain the accolades they have over the past several years.
Travis McConnell (The Holler | Pressroom) – Travis made a name in Little Rock with Butcher and Public and earlier at the Capital Hotel as well. He made the journey to Bentonville a few years ago to open Butcher and Pint, which in many ways built on his butchering talents that he showcased in Little Rock. Travis left recently to become executive for the Pressroom and he is helping open the latest Rope Swing Project called the Holler in the 8th street market district. The Holler is a burger focus “neighborhood hangout”. Think coffee shop meets bar with really good food.
Arturo Solis (Pressroom) – Arturo was a chef we had an eye on while he was at Capital Bar and Grill. He exhibited some huge talent, stifled only by the Capitals adherence to tradition. He eventually left the Capital for Oklahoma City, then recently made his way back across the state lines to work the kitchen at The Pressroom. The Pressroom, owned by Rope Swing Group, has all the potential in the world to be a magnificent kitchen especially when they have quality chefs to lead it. The Pressroom has produced one of our favorite chefs in the state Michael Robertshaw, who has gone on to do big things, so the ceiling is high for someone of Arturo’s talents.
Matt Cooper (Preacher’s Son) – Cooper made his way to Bentonville to open the Preacher’s Son, Rope Swing Group also, after helping open Cache in Little Rock. Preacher’s son which instantly became a favorite spot in town, often being packed for dinner. It helps that the spot is absolutely beautiful and even was a James Beard award finalist for restaurant design this year, but Cooper has done his job to make sure the food quality matches the beauty of the space. As a result Cooper has thrived in the area being frequently regarded as one of the best chefs in NWA.
Matt Lowman (Farmer’s Daughter) – Former South on Main Pastry chef Matt Lowman was another that took a pilgrimage to the area and took a bit to settle into his final spot. When he did he settled just outside of Bentonville on the Missouri side to open the Farmer’s Daughter, a restaurant with an extreme adherence to farm to table and with all the quality you would expect from Lowman. The Farmer’s Daughter is in Cassville Missouri, a hot spot for Walmart employees and suppliers to live, which was a clientele he built working at various locations around Bentonville and Rogers.
Josiah Moody (Bike Rack) – Josiah Moody is easily one of the most respected and talented brewers in the state. Famous for his Moody Brews and being the head brewer at Vino’s, Josiah left a couple of years ago after plans for his own brewery fell through in Little Rock. He landed at Bike Rack just as they were about to expand rapidly. He helped the move to the new brewing facility and has established the brand as one of the best in the state. Bike Rack continues to pump out quality beer that is finally reaching Little Rock, where it all began for Josiah.
Ja’Quintin Means (Bike Rack) – Speaking of Bike Rack, Ja’Quintin (Ja) has really come along since joining Josiah in Bentonville. Ja started out at Lost Forty washing kegs and cleaning equipment. He took a quick interest in brewing and has rapidly absorbed everything he could from his time at Lost Forty and Bike Rack, becoming an essential part of the Bike Rack operation, even brewing his own recipes at Bike Rack. The talent that he has been able to surround himself with has turned him into a talented brewer in his own right.