Barbecue remains one of the most hotly debated subjects within the food world, and within Arkansas, most lovers of smoked meat are attached to one or two of their favorite establishments. But although it has been out of commission since 1989, many Arkansans remember one barbecue joint with a great deal of fondness, some viewing it as the best this state has ever seen. This is the legend of The Shack.
The Shack closed its doors over 25 years ago, but its barbecue offerings still remain in many people’s minds in Arkansas. Today, one man has determined to resurrect the once popular barbecue restaurant—Tim Chappell is preparing to bring The Shack to the River Market in downtown Little Rock.
We caught up with Chappell to find out just how he planned on reviving this revered restaurant and what barbecue enthusiasts can except to find when The Shack returns.
“Of course we’ll be using recipes from the original restaurant,” says Chappell. “The Shack will be serving slow-cooked, hickory-smoked pork primarily. Slaw will come either wet or dry, along with baked beans, potato salad and other traditionally available Arkansas options such as fried okra.”
For many, however, the secret to The Shack’s success was in the sauce, which Chappell ensures us will be perfectly replicated at the new restaurant. “The Shack sauce is what most people remember, and is the key ingredient that perfectly blends with the slaw with the pork or beef on a bun.”
Tim Chappell’s vision to reopen the original restaurant is not merely some whimsical fancy, some vague notion to hopefully capture a bit of the magic The Shack once held for Arkansas BBQ fans. Indeed, Chappell’s legitimate claims to The Shack legacy stem from his partner Joe Finch.
“People know Joe around the state as the BBQ King,” says Chappell. This is because Joe Finch is not only the owner of the official “Shack” name and brand, but he also owns the original Shack recipes and has been producing its food for over 50 years.
Over the years, and after the shuttering of the original Shack, Joe Finch and his wife Ruth opened and operated 11 BBQ restaurants around the state. About 15 years ago, they sold the last restaurant they owned, what is now known as The Smoke Shack in Maumelle. But about two years ago, Finch was determined to get back into the barbecue business and dreamed of re-opening the original Shack in The River Market area of Little Rock. Finch was soon introduced to Chappell, and the two have been plotting and planning the return of this Arkansas classic since that time. Today, they are putting the “final touches” on their soon-to-be barbecue restaurant at 402 E. Third St. and expect to open their doors sometime in 2016.
But fans of The Shack will probably not need to wait quite that long to sample some of this highly-celebrated BBQ. “In the meantime Joe and I are in the process of purchasing a concession trailer where we plan to cater private events and potentially, a few days a week, serve Shack BBQ in various parts of town,” says Chappell. He directs us to their websites, theshackisback.com and also tracktheshack.com (which is not actually operational at this time), in order to follow the trailer’s future locations.
Chappell says they are determined to “put together a menu that is exactly what people remember and hope for when they visit The Shack.” Chappell continues, “Joe Finch has been teaching me about BBQ for the last two years now, and the people who try his food all get very excited. I believe it is a reconnection to the tastes, flavors, and smells that they remember from the old 3rd and Victory location that gets them so excited when they taste Joe’s barbecue again after so many years.”