|Postcard from Best Western Alamo Court and Davy|
Crockett Restaurant in Walnut Ridge.
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.
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)|
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.|
|Building in 3600 block of Roosevelt Road. Note the windows.|
|Hank's Dog House sketched postcard.|
|Google Streetview image of location, October 2013.|
(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.
That is, except for a few folks who are making sure those memories stay kept. Take, for instance, the work of Raymond Merritt on his self-hosted Mabelvale High School page. Mr. Merritt has asked that I not duplicate photographs on his page, and I will respect that – and send a link over. The page he’s collected with memories of fellow Mabelvale alumni of Little Rock’s cuisine is significant – and important. These individuals are sharing their experiences, and in such a way are keeping the legacy of Little Rock’s earlier restaurants alive.
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.
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.
|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.
|Note the rounded windows -- common to The Old South-style restaurants,|
certainly evident on the orange building on Roosevelt today.