To say the restaurant industry is hard would be an understatement. Restaurants, sometimes even popular ones, for a variety of reasons. We spend a lot of time around here doing our best to promote the restaurant industry, and each loss to the overall community hurts.
Thankfully 2017 was better than average, 2016 for instance saw a higher than normal number of closures. Most of the restaurants lost were very quickly replaced and some were a long time coming. Still, we are always sad to see a local spot go.
Here is a list of some of the biggest closings from around the Little Rock area (and one big one in NWA). This is not a comprehensive list by any means, there are always some places that close quietly under the radar. These are the big ones to remember from 2017.
Hillcrest Artisan Meats– January 1 – H.A.M was Hillcrest royalty for a couple of years. One of the most beloved places in all of Little Rock. However rising costs of well sourced meats coupled with the owners working tirelessly ultimately was too much. H.A.M. closed officially at the end of the year last year. It was quickly bought by Pantry owner Tomas Bohm and turned into District Fare.
Flavor of India – January – Flavor of India, while good, always seemed to play second to neighboring Taj Mahal and not too distant Star of India. No official word on why it closed, but location and competition had to be weighing on the spot hard.
The Main Cheese– January (and again in June) – In theory the Main Cheese should have done well. Looking at NWA based Hammontree’s it is a strong concept. The grilled cheeses, which were the main focus, came across lackluster early. There were attempts to adjust recipes but it always seemed too little too late. It closed in January then was bought up quickly by Clean Eatery owner Ryan McGehee. The second opening, confusingly, reduced the vast majority of grilled cheeses on the menu and replaced those with more healthy options. Needless to say that didn’t work out so well and it closed again in June.
Juice Leaf– January – There has never been a clearer case of a food trend rising and falling as clearly as the juice shop craze. Juice Leaf came in on a wave only to find the juice craze bottoming out shortly after. High prices, small portions, and questionable health benefits doomed the industry as a whole. The juice bar that survived, I Love Juice Bar, was savvy enough to react quickly and rebrand as Paninis & Co and shift toward a sandwich focused menu.
Terry’s Finer Foods– February – Terry’s Finer Foods, and the restaurant accompanying it, was an icon in the Heights. A slow and very public decline ended the run around the first of the year. They closed their doors only to be quickly bought by new ownership and rebranded as Heights Corner Market which opened in the spring.
Smokey Joe’s (Benton)– March – Growing up in Benton, Smokey Joe’s felt like it had been around forever. Their Military road location saw the city change dramatically over the years, into a city embracing chains and the eventual decline of Military which no doubt cost a lot of customers.
Kent Walker Artisan Cheese – April – Another one of those seemingly thriving businesses. KWAC not only had a solid cheese shop, but also supplied a huge number of restaurants and stores throughout the state. Owner Kent Walker tried for a while to sell the business, ultimately giving up and announcing the closing, which then prompted a last second acquisition that was rebranded and refocused as The Southern Table.
The Veg– July – After floating around looking for a spot to settle, vegetarian themed restaurant The Veg finally found a place on 6th street in downtown. Our initial impressions were very good, the food was easily some of the best vegetarian food in town. The praised would be short lived however, after a nightclub shooting in the building, which The Veg was subletting from, forced the closure of the spot. The Veg owner says he is still looking for a new spot 6 months later, hopefully we will see it again.
James at the Mill – August – James at the Mill was one of the first big destination spots in NWA. Located just outside of Fayetteville, the restaurant owned by James Miles also had a hotel attached making it a nice getaway. The rapid growth in the culinary scene no doubt led to the decline in the Mill. They worked on selling off the spot for several years before closing. The property was purchased with no intention of restoring a restaurant on the location.
Agave Grill (Benton) – August – Benton finally appeared to break the chain mentality with Agave Grill. That did not last long after a long list of problems plagued the restaurant in the first few months. It closed almost as quickly as it opened just 2 months later.
Cafe Brunelle– September – Once a year or so we see a place close for “Remodeling” only to never open again. That was the case with Cafe Brunelle. The location of this spot ultimately doomed it. It was located in the busy Chenal Promenade, however the spot was the only thing on the back side of the center. Few people walked by it, even fewer knew where it was located to begin with. The spot had easily the best coffee shop setting on that side of Little Rock, but it couldn’t find a way to attract people.
Arkansas Burger Co – September – Arkansas Burger Co is another one of those long time beloved restaurants. The spaced closed due to health issues with the owner.
Cock of the Walk (Maumelle)– November – Cock of the Walk is another of those that seems to have been open forever. It is a legacy spot like Browns and Franke’s, most of the diners are older and it puts out food that, for the most part, time forgot. Their core audience dying off, increased restaruant competition in Maumelle, and mediocre food played a huge role in this closure.
LuLu’s Rotisserie– November – LuLu’s had moments of greatness. Occasionally we would go in to find food full of flavor. Consistency issues kept being reported by our readers. For us, consistency wasn’t just with the food, it was availability. Frequently showed up only to find the hours changed, would be recommended something from the owners only to never find it on the menu again, or go in to find them out of almost everything.
Dixie Cafe – December – No, Dixie Cafe is not our normal type of spot to cover, but the Little Rock based chain had a good run in Riverdale. As I am researching a book on historic restaurants in town, the story of Dixie Cafe pops up frequently. It, and the ownership, had a huge impact on the Little Rock culinary scene being associated with places like Cheers, Buffalo Grill, and Pizza cafe. The food was a dying model, and certainly will not be missed by anyone who cares about food. There is a certain nostalgia to the place that makes it just a little sad, especially for the Riverdale spot that started it all.