Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Arkansas and its Fading Restaurant History.

Postcard from Best Western Alamo Court and Davy
Crockett Restaurant in Walnut Ridge.
I've been working on a new project over the past nine months… another book, to be exact.  This one was to be an all-encompassing book called Classic Arkansas Eateries:  A Delicious Tradition of Dining Out.  But as I compiled my research, I realized something – 40,000 words wasn't going to do justice to the food and restaurants of The Natural State.  Thus was born Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley, the first of what I expect to be four books covering the classic restaurants all around Arkansas.

I've learned a lot, and I’m expecting to learn a lot more.  The very first thing I learned, though, was that there’s no good repository of information about these older restaurants.  Outside of Little Rock (which, thanks to the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, saved its restaurant history fairly well), little of the restaurants that have closed remains.  Frankly, our Arkansas restaurant history is fading away.

There are a few places to find bits here and there.  Phone books from the past give addresses, names and the number – which is a starting point.  Eateries that had money for advertising are represented in newspapers of the time where archives are available.  There are privately held photos and stories, and there are the extant restaurants that often keep their own history (though, as in the case of the original DeVito’s at Bear Creek Springs, circumstances can erase that memorabilia).  And then there are the postcards.

Hank's Dog House on Roosevelt Road in the 1960s.
The average restaurant, diner, drive-in or coffeeshop wasn’t likely to have its own postcard unless it was part of a hotel or if its owner was looking for publicity and good word-of-mouth.  Postcards cost money.

There were dozens of companies all across the United States that would create postcards and send them to these restaurants for a nominal fee.  Often these were sold at the register – for a nickel, three for a dime – add a stamp and off went a memory shared with someone back home.

Today postcards are swapped, sold and traded on sites such as eBay and CashCow.com.  Many have made their way into historical records and private collections.  And what I’ve discovered is a preserved history.

Back when I started working with photographer Grav Weldon, what each of us shot wasn’t very similar.  Grav’s preferred body of work is entropy – gravesites and cemeteries, abandoned buildings, that sort of thing.  Mine?  Well… food, of course.  Over time we’ve found some of our work merging – especially when it comes to this restaurant business.  And now I’m really starting to feel this call – this entropy of lost places that once fed communities.  It’s important.  These sort of places deserve to be remembered.

Shadden's Bar-B-Q in Marvell, August 2013. (Grav Weldon)
One of these images came this past summer.  On a research trip through the Arkansas Delta, I drove Grav by Shadden’s Bar-B-Q in Marvell.  Three years earlier, Mr. Wayne Shadden wasn’t feeling good, so he shut down for the day and went home.  The next day, he died – and the restaurant remains as it was.  I was surprised how well kept the exterior is – but the family’s watching over the place.  Most places aren’t so lucky… just see what happened to the smokehouse at Booger Hollow within a year of its closing.

Scrapping together history like this starts with a little logic.  I have images of several postcards in my collection.  Part of the new book talks about the history of The Old South in Russellville – and its predecessors.  The modular site-assembled restaurant idea created by William E. Stell at National Glass Manufacturing in Fort Smith apparently took hold.  There were hundreds of the buildings placed in locations all over the United States.  At least two of them were in Little Rock -- under the name Gordon Adkins' Fine Foods.
Gordon Adkins No. 1 on Roosevelt Road.

The restaurants had to have come after 1946 (the date the first location of The Old South was opened in Fort Smith) but before Hank’s Dog House.  I’ll get to that.  What we have of the first Gordon Adkins is not a photograph but a line drawing, complete with an address of 3614 Roosevelt Road.

Hank's Dog House in the 1950s.
Later photographs show the same building – same signature spine and rounded windows – with the name Hank’s Dog House.  The original was a little whitewashed building that was a dead ringer for The Old South. 

Building in 3600 block of Roosevelt Road.  Note the windows.
Today about three buildings down from what is now numbered as 3614 Roosevelt Road, you’ll find an orange and red building with those same rounded windows.  At first I was sure this was the same business.  But then I noticed the architecture was different – a vestibule was added on, and there was one window on the left side that’s far forward of those on the right.  Is it the same building or were the windows removed from another property and moved?


Hank's Dog House sketched postcard.
If you type in 3614 West Roosevelt Road today, you come up with an empty lot.  I checked with the city to see if there had been renumbering in the intervening years – no dice.  This Google streetview shows the lot and a building off to the right.  Compare it to this postcard,.  The building on the right appears to be the old Hank’s Catering House next door.

Google Streetview image of location, October 2013.
From this information, I’d surmise that Hank’s moved in after Gordon Adkin’s moved out, then later the restaurant moved down the street.  But that’s all supposition.  So what do I do?  I asked my mom – who came to Little Rock in the 70s to live but who visited the city several times during her childhood.  Her response?  Hank’s was a bit above her price point back in those days.  I have other interviews to come about the place, but that’s where I started.

(You know where else I find restaurant history?  Obituaries.  For instance, I learned that Ruth Brannon worked at Hank’s Dog House for 50 years – which, if I knew nothing about restaurants in Little Rock, would tell me this one was likely a classic.  That obituary is here. I also found a recipe for the famed Hank's Dog House Blue Cheese Dressing on Food.com.)

But if you go to the internet today to do research, all you see are the postcards (and obituaries) for this landmark restaurant.  And without postcards?  Well, Hank’s might just be a memory.

Gordon Adkins No. 2.

But I digress.

I mentioned Gordon Adkins.  The restaurant on Roosevelt was Gordon Adkins #1.  A second location was opened at 10th and Broadway in Little Rock.  It later became the Ritz Grill. 

Ritz Grill.
Can’t find it today… 10th Street through downtown was all but obliterated with the construction of Interstate 630.

I could go on quite a while for this, but what I’d really like is to engage you in some thought.  Are there restaurants in your past that no longer exist?   Special memories of a dinner?  Do you have photographs of these places that have passed into history?  Now’s the time to record that information.

Here’s a small selection of restaurant postcards – some with views of what’s at those locations today.


Best Western Alamo Court and Davy Crockett Restaurant
in Walnut Ridge, historic postcard.
The same Walnut Ridge property today.  The restaurant building is for
sale and the former motel rooms appear to be in use as apartments.

The old Pine Bluff Motel and Plantation Embers Restaurant at
4600 Dollarway Road.  The back mentions featured items at the
restaurant:  charcoal broiled steaks, Prime Ribs and Lobster.

Today the location is home to an America's Best Value Inn.

The Deese Motel and Restaurant in Beebe at the intersection of Highways
67 and 64 boasted 20 "completely Modern rooms.  Air-Conditioned - Steam
Heat - Tile Baths - Telephones - Beautyrest Mattresses - T.V."
The property still exists (and about 15 years ago I actually stayed there one
night!) -- but today as you can see in this Google Streetview image, the
motel is the Budget Inn, and its former restaurant is a tattoo parlor.
Powell's Motel at Highway 167 and Main Street
in Batesville served up the "finest of food" at
its somewhat elegant restaurant.
Today the restaurant is Kelley-Wyatt's, which itself was one of the trio of
Kelley family restaurants in Arkansas (the others are at Wynne and Bald
Knob).  Note that this Google Streetview captured two men atop the eatery
at the cupola.
Bald Knob's Market Cafe was celebrated on this postcard as "Just A Good
Place to Eat" at the intersection of Highways 64, 67 and 167.  It also mentions
that the restaurant is air conditioned.
I took this shot in July while researching stories for the upcoming books.
This is the interior of Kelley's Restaurant at Bald Knob.  It still bears the Kelley
name, but was sold several years ago to another family.  The image in the
postcard above is the reverse position in the dining room.
The popular Ritz Motel at Highways 67 and 70 south of downtown Little
Rock was, according to this postcard, "recommended by Duncan Hines."

The restaurant is long gone, and though the Ritz Motel still retains the name,
the comfort level has... well, gone down a bit.
UPDATE:  After being reminded about the fantastic Remember in Little Rock Facebook open group, I cleared up a bit of memory.  The orange building in the photo may have been the first location of Gordon Adkins No. 1 and possibly even the first Hank's Dog House location (MAYBE) -- but it certainly appears to have been one of the locations for Bruno's Little Italy.
Note the rounded windows -- common to The Old South-style restaurants,
certainly evident on the orange building on Roosevelt today.

5 comments:

  1. It makes me sad when I take my kiddos to places of old and they are no more. We have to live in the moment and that moment is now! If you have some where you love to eat at go!

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  2. Wyatts is closed at Batesville now also

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  3. Have you ever heard of a restaurant/inn in Batesville called the Highview?

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  4. I have been away from Little Rock for about 23 years and it is literally depressing on how everything I knew this is just gone. All places I worked at while bartending/disc jockey are gone. If the building is still there someone has ripped out all the insides and created something absolutely foreign to me. I hate it.

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  5. I was away from Little Rock where I was born and raised for about 23 years and EVERYTHING is gone! I worked in the bar business at numerous places as a bartender, disc jockey, waiter, etc and ALL PLACES I WORKED AT ARE GONE! I was in total shock. The only place I can find where I used to hang out at was the bar at the Capital Hotel. I sat at that bar with my elbows up on the same exact wood my elbows rested on when I was in my early twenties. Now in my early fifties, nothing I knew is left.

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Be kind.