Tucked away in the River Market, Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro has been alive and kicking for nearly 20 years. Owner Darla Huie has been fast at the helm, and although you might not catch the many nuances from one visit, Dizzy’s is much more than a restaurant.
Recently, I sat down with Huie at Dizzy’s, and during the interview, what seemed like her entire family – everyone from her seven-year-old granddaughter to her daughter and husband – made an appearance. She says, “We have three generations of family that have worked or work here.”
And according to Huie, she needs all the help she can get, as running a restaurant can be a lot like “the theatre of the absurd.” Truth be told, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She laughingly tells a story of how she once was fired from a position as a file clerk. “I couldn’t file, really,” she says, but the event lead her to work in sales for a time, where she excelled. “I had independence there,” she says, which made all the difference.
One day essentially out of the blue, Huie decided she wanted to open a restaurant. “There was no rational reason why I wanted one,” she says, but she went about getting the pieces together. At the time she and her family were located in Benton, Ark., and a woman who she met selling ads helped her get a loan. She says, “It was a woman who got me my first loan, a woman who got my foot in the door financially.”
At that point, Huie was not to be stopped. “I had no idea what I was doing. Basically, my concept of a restaurant included decent music, good lighting, and I wanted to paint the walls red. That was my goal, and, of course, to have good food and laid back servers,” she says.
Therefore Huie had to learn as she went along. “Three days before we opened, I remember saying, ‘Ok this looks great, I love the red walls and zebra print, but now, were do we get food?’” Ultimately she formed relationships with some great food reps, continuing with her can-do spirit.
She spent time reading books upon books about cooking as well as the culinary institute’s guide front-to-back. She immersed herself in food, learning from her friends and travels. “Benton built us. I love downtown, but Benton taught me how to run a restaurant,” she says.
Every ounce of work Huie has put into Dizzy’s has been worth it. But she is quick to say, it’s not an easy task. “This business is tough. There’s no doubt about that, this is not an ivory tower job.”
Tough or not, she has never felt that she, as a woman, couldn’t get Dizzy’s off the ground. “I guess a great point to make is, if you work hard and pay your bills fairly responsibly, they’re not going to treat you any different than they do men because this is business,” she says.
There are occasional misconceptions, for instance, someone may ask Huie if he or she can speak to the owner. In those instances, she says, “I just move forward. Gender biases should not preclude any woman from ever moving forward.” Plus, she’s thankful for all the women who have trail blazed before her, as she says, “I think most of the hard work has been done.”
In her time as a restaurant owner, Huie has worked with some great men. Moses Tucker, her landlords, actually recruited her out of Benton to move to Little Rock, which she says, “was a better fit.” She also had some great male mentors early on, including Dennis Chunyo when she worked at the Faded Rose for a stint.
As far as the actual business of running the restaurant, Huie has it down to an art, although it’s always changing. She lets her employees stay pretty autonomous, a system which helps her keep little turnover.
She’s also very much into helping people. The art dotting the walls come from Birch Tree Communities, an organization that aims to help combat mental illness through rehabilitation with art. She also believes in second chances.
“People who have a past, or a record, we as restaurants are one of the few places that those people can start over,” she explains. As a female, she feels she brings a higher level of empathy to the table, plus she learns so much from all of her employees as she says, “I have a deep appreciate of people who are different than me.”
At the end of the day, running Dizzy’s can be intense. Huie says, “I’m not super easy to work for, people don’t roll over, but I’m fair. I’m a little bit crazy with a bad temper, but we’ll help all of our employees.”
Huie still gets excited when people walk through the door looking for a table. “I do back hand springs when people come in,” she laughs. You can tell there is a passion there – one that’s not likely to fizzle any time soon.