From food truck to brick-and-mortar, the Southern Gourmasian has quickly become entrenched in the local scene. Since opening the Main Street location in February of 2015, the restaurant has undergone a lot of changes, and Manager soon-to-be Managing Partner Cetera C. Key has been there through it all.
The Pine Bluff native had no idea she would end up working in the food industry, but as a child she often played in her toy kitchen creating elaborate meals. As she got older she became interested in flavor profiles and combinations.
“I made snacks in middle school that no middle-schooler would have been making,” she laughs, “But I’ve always been a little outside-of-the-box.”
Talking to Key, it’s easy to see that she thrives on interacting with people. And while her original path lead her to social work, she soon found herself drawn back to food.
“I actually worked at Mellow Mushroom for a year, selling pizza,” she says, although she’s had experience at Purple Cow and The Faded Rose. In fact, something about locally owned restaurants captured her attention – “It spoiled me worked at Faded Rose – you have the locally owned aspect, and there are customers that have been coming in for years.”
So when she came across Southern Gourmasian’s Executive Chef Justin Patterson’s Craigslist ad for a food runner, she applied. She should have known from her interview – which lasted over an hour long as the two discovered a mutual love of music – that she would find herself rooted in the restaurant.
“As I started working, I just filled in wherever [Justin] needed me,” she says. Before long she was in a managerial role and working to make the restaurant more patron-friendly.
“That’s what we’ve been discovering – we have to keep rebranding and rebooting,” she explains. She believes in the hard work and precise care Patterson puts into his food and work, and she wants to tap into that in a market that might still be slow to understand the Momofuku inspired restaurant.
“The Southern Gourmaisan’s cuisine is something that you can’t go anywhere else and get in Little Rock,” she says, “I’m still hoping that Little Rockers open up and try to get outside of their comfort zones.”
Small changes she has made along the way have helped the restaurant along – including little touches like going to full service and starting an Instagram. “I really am trying to create that kind of place where people know you by name,” she says.
Plus, Key has headed the introduction of a cocktail line, which she created herself. “This will be fun to change as we go along and get customer feedback,” she says, “But we were missing out on potential customers because we didn’t serve alcohol.”
Her eventual hope is that more businesses and restaurants will move into the vacant spaces near the eatery and traffic will pick up. She has her eye on starting up dinner service again as she says, “I tell people we’re ahead of the curve moving down here. I really think Little Rock is one step away from really booming.”
And that’s her goal – to put Little Rock on the map as best she can. Right now she does this by interacting with guests, explaining dishes, and going after feedback.
When not working, Key loves to be outside, spend time with her family and check out other local eateries. “I love the breweries they’ve kind of taken over my dining – I eat at Lost 40 quite a bit,” she laughs.
Often, though, you can find Key at the Southern Gourmaisan, where she’s a perfect fit. She says it best – “I believe in this place like nobody’s business. I believe in it so much, and I’ve watched Justin work so hard. We’re going to take it to the next level.”