in group of people who keep schedules that are far different from the norm — nurses, law enforcement officers, television producers, college students number among them. Odd hours makes one no less hungry, but where can one go when the urge to eat breakfast strikes at 11 p.m. or 2 a.m.?
Central Arkansas residents are, for the most part, confined to a small number of national chains such as IHOP, Denny’s and Waffle House. But in Fort Smith, the choices are different and include Lucy’s, Bob & Ellie’s and the king of all Arkansas late night food — Benson’s Grill. Why is that? How can a smaller economy support more locally owned efforts?
Jennifer Boulden is the Communication and Event Services Manager for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau. She believes there are multiple reasons.
Convention and Visitors Bureau executive Claude Legris thinks it’s ingrained in the population. “Fort Smith, though a sophisticated community (Mitsubishi, regional health care, 188th Fighter Wing, a growing arts community, outstanding educational institutions), still has a ‘mom and pop’ kind of attitude. Lots of the folks here are multi generational, and they still take pride in personal relationships they have had their entire lives. They show a preference for these types of establishments because that’s how they were ‘brung up.’ Plus they know that biscuits and gravy are good 24 hours a day!”
Boulden also notes it’s not just the egg-and-pancake crowd looking for a bite to eat. “We have so many people here with topsy-turvy hours, for one reason or another. Even one of our doughnut shops, Irish Maid, makes their pastries fresh during the supper hours and then again at midnight, rather than in the early morning hours as most places do. So before people go in for a late-night shift, they can go by there and get piping fresh doughnuts.”
At Benson’s, that meal is always substantial. Tate says breakfast interest is pretty steady. “In a 24 hour period, approximately 40% of all of our plates served are from the breakfast menu. It is a bit seasonal, in that when it is cold we see that percentage skew towards breakfast by 3-5%, especially in the overnight timeframes.
Tate also notes that people who are seeking out breakfast at Benson’s aren’t really looking for the healthy option. “I will tell you that in the almost 14 years that I have owned Benson's, we have almost quadrupled the sales at the restaurant by just focusing on trying to remain a ‘joint’ and serving comfort food and a more than reasonable price. We don't try to be something that we are not and don't chase fads. When we were at the height of the Atkins Diet craze, we put up a sign that said, ‘Don't worry about the calories... don't worry about the carbs... they're ALL in there.!’ "