Colonial Steakhouse actually started out in an antebellum home at the corner of 5th and Beech, not too far away. It was the creation of a lady by the name of Mildred Compton, who opened it on August 10, 1973. She sold it to Scott Mouser, a 22-year old local resident whose mom had once worked at the school housed in the current location. After a fire destroyed the old house on Beech in 1987, Mouser purchased the demolition rights for the 8th and Pine property and set about renovating. He moved the restaurant into the first floor and leased out the second level for mortgage offices and such, and he still owns the building today.
Mouser sold the restaurant to Joe and Donna Coker in 1993. Coker took on a restaurant that had long established itself as a hub for the community, a place where families came for every important life event. On June 3, 2014, he sold the restaurant to Dana and Wayne Gateley. Dana has been a waitress at Colonial Steakhouse for more than a quarter century.
“We have the most amazing support, and we see the third generation of the same families. We do their prom and their engagement party and their wedding reception. The kids come in the first time in high chairs and we see them through graduation and their wedding receptions.
“I went there as a favor to Scott and his wife,” Dana shares, “they needed a waitress and I had owned a Baskin Robbins and I had no idea what I would do next after my kids graduated. I said I would help, and that’s been some 20 years ago. I do work a day job, Scott owns the hunting club and a farm and his wife owns a pre-K through 5th grade school. Joe (Coker) is a vendor for Ben E. Keith, his wife is chairman of the math department at White Hall Schools.
When the Gateleys bought the eatery, Wayne Gateley asked if they should start taking reservations. The entire staff said no. “We can’t tell a customer we’re sorry, we’re booked. They each have a special table, a special day of the week they come in. They would never understand that they’d need a reservation because it’s their restaurant.
“I have a gentleman who celebrated a 96th birthday here the other day. I wait on his grandchildren. It’s truly a legacy in Pine Bluff. Kids come in for prom that came in when they were a baby. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a young man tell me ‘I’m going to propose Saturday night, what can we do to make it special?’ Parents come in separately to take pictures of the proposal.”
“We went for maybe our third or fourth anniversary back in the 1970s, my first time to Colonial Steakhouse. Someone told me ‘you have to have the prime rib.’ I’m not much of a prime rib eater, but I did and then I was just onto it. It was a point where we were young and just starting out and it was two meals – and you had the other half the next day with carrots and potatoes and called it a roast.
Speaking of the internet, Dana Gateley is savvy to what customers are doing these days. When her staff spots someone photographing their food with a cell phone -- especially the Roast Prime of Rib -- she'll take a dollar off their bill. "If they're taking photos of my food," she says, "that's free advertising. Who wouldn't want that?"
The Gateleys have made a few other recent changes, redecorating the restaurant to a Tuscan theme. They’re leaving one room that will soon be decked out in photography of the city’s restaurant past, a museum full of nostalgia for those generational customers who even still keep coming back. Dana Gateley understands the restaurant’s importance.
“It’s hard to describe the history of it. The history (of the Colonial Steakhouse) is the history of the people of Pine Bluff. They are what made the history of the restaurant. It’s like the knitting of the fabric – every string is a family, every strand is the history of this family. I have been asked why in the world I would buy the restaurant at my age. Well, I didn’t buy it for me. I bought it for the families.”
111 West 8th Street
Pine Bluff, AR 71601
If you like this story, you're going to love Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta. Click here to order.