True Arkansas Eatery, better known as TAE, has permanently closed less than a year after it opened. The second restaurant by Justin Patterson and Cetera Key was a reverent homage to Southern food, featuring recipes pioneered by black slaves hundreds of years ago as well as modern Southern trends. However, the restaurant’s obscure location proved too much to overcome. TAE’s staff was informed of the decision to close this past weekend.
“I think we struggled with the location, which we thought would happen,” said Patterson. “We needed a fast opening [after The Southern Gourmasian closed], and that fell into place there. The Southern Gourmasian was very tough, and I just needed to be removed from that. It really beat me up. Sadly, we struggled at the hotel.”
Patterson and Key had hoped to sell the restaurant to a third party, but that deal never came to be, and the two decided to close the restaurant. Patterson has moved back to his childhood home in Lepanto in Poinsett County, where he’s currently enjoying playing guitar and being with his family. Patterson says he is unlikely to cook in Little Rock again.
“I’m happy right now,” said Patterson. “It’s unfortunate the circumstances had to happen, but sometimes it just works out that way.”
Patterson opened The Southern Gourmasian food truck nearly seven years ago and immediately made his mark on Little Rock’s food scene. The Southern Gourmasian was a fusion concept of Asian and Southern U.S. foods, and was a darling of food writers and customers. In 2015, Patterson opened a brick-and-mortar location on Capitol Avenue and expanded his menu to include more than two dozen dishes, including a ramen that ranks as one of the best I’ve ever had. It was there he partnered with C.C. Key, who brought deep Southern sensibilities to the menu.
The Southern Gourmasian closed in February of last year, and Patterson and Key quickly opened TAE three months later. TAE was unapologetically Southern, with an emphasis on smoked pork, greens and cornbread. Now, TAE is gone, and Key and Patterson have parted ways as colleagues. However, Key says Patterson helped her in more ways than one.
“Justin brought out my desire to cook professionally,” said Key. “He gave me an opportunity that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. We accomplished so much- while facing opposition at every turn. It was hard, but we were determined to make it happen. I will forever appreciate the work ethic that I gained from working with him. He’s a hard worker and a great chef.”