The longstanding burger and steak joint that has served Little Rock since 1960 is looking a new place to move after the new owners of the building decide to have the eatery move out.
As far as Black Angus is concerned, it may be the most historically important burger joint in Little Rock. The conjuring of Goin Oliver Harper, it's a direct decendant of the legendary Lido Inn and, in turn, a response to the Minute Man. There's a nice history here, if you'd like to take a look.
Harper opened the cooking-over-the-coals Black Angus restaurant back in 1960. It had several locations over the years, including the edifice at the northwest corner of Fair Park and Markham, catty-corner from War Memorial Stadium. By the time I got my own wheels at the cusp of the 1990s, it had moved to a longterm spot on South University. The move to the former hosting building of two formerly ill-fated restaurant chain operations - Boston Market and Kenny Rogers' Roasters - came in 1999.
Black Angus moved to that location when that stretch of Rodney Parham was hot in the late 1990s. Back then, a K-Mart was the anchor, along with a Harvest Foods and a Showbiz Pizza Place wedged in-between. All three of those businesses have closed now, with a fitness center in the old grocery slot and a new medical development going into the other spaces.
A few days ago, a message was posted on the Remember in Little Rock list, asking if anyone had heard that Black Angus was moving. A followup post confirming the move was posted to the Black Angus Facebook page. Dozens have shared and hundreds have responded.
Karla Creasey reached out to me to share what happened. She tells me the new owners of the building have given Black Angus until March 31st to move.
"It was completely unexpected," Creasey says.. "Everything was fine and wonderful."
The Premiere Medical Plaza, the project within the redeveloped space, is at completion by Premier Gastroenterology Associates and Newmark Moses Tucker Partners. With 100,000sf of office and clinical space, the plaza is bound to draw folks in. The restaurant even happily welcomed the development on its Facebook page when it was announced.
|The former K-Mart shopping center,|
redevelopeed. The new Premier Medical
Plaza is at the bottom. Black Angus is
at top, just left of center.
Though her attorney advised against, it, Creasey went on good faith and signed the agreement.
"I don't know what they were thinking, but I suspect they didn't expect me to sign the agreement. They came back wanting a personal guarantee, which would mean in the event of bankruptsy my homestead would be on the line, and in the event of my death my estate would pay the remainder of the lease.
"Their reactions made me think they were negotiating a net terms lease, one with definitive numbers, one that was fair. As late as December 10th they were asking me for a user friendly art file so I could join their parking lot marquee. I emailed the CEO, Bill Green, and let him know I did not have a problem with a net term lease, but I needed to see the numbers, so I would know whether I would be selling a $2 burger or a $30 burger." She sent along the artwork that day.
New Year's Eve changed everything.
"At 4:27 p.m. on New Year's Eve, I was served with a notice to vacate," Creasey continues. "I don't know if they were looking for a holiday or what, it's a holiday, but they gave me until Monday to respond, gave me 30 days with a 90 day option if I choose not to sue, then I can take my furniture and fixtures and stay until March 31st.
"I chose not to sue."
At first, Creasey only told a few of the regulars who came in. "I wanted to tell certain customers myself. You want to tell your employees and family. Everyone who comes to the restaurant is fabulous. Every one. But when it was posted to Remember in Little Rock I felt I really had to let everyone know."
Since the news got out, the community has begun to rally around Black Angus. Some longtime customers are asking that the restaurant be relocated closer to where they live. Others are pledging their support no matter where the restaurant goes. And still more are working to find a new location.
"John Hathaway from the Hathaway Group is on a personal mission. He's been a regular customer all the way back to the Markham and Van Buren days. He doesn't want to see another icon be forced out for some national chain to take this spot. Every day, I get 10-15 text messages from people who have seen a spot and I just forward that to him. I spent all day yesterday just driving around and moving. I went into one place and asked if they were planning to move - it just was the perfect spot."
Creasy is concerned for her employees, many of whom have spent a good portion of their lives working with her.
"Ben my kitchen manager has been there 32 years. Robert's got 24, Mark's got 22, Marilyn's got a dozen I'm sure. And these people - if any happened to their homes or their trucks or their livelihood, I just couldn't take it. We'll move fast with as little interruption as possible."
The restaurant prides itself on its 100% charcoal grilled meats and doesn't have a flat griddle of any sort on the property. It takes 34 large bags of Nature's Own charcoal to keep those grills hot - and an hour each day before opening just to prep the charcoal grills. There are few restaurants within Arkansas still cooking over charcoal grills, and none I have found with the commitment to do all of their grilling on them. The flavor the charcoal imparts to those burgers, steaks, pork chops and chicken breasts is part of the culinary fabric that makes up Little Rock's contribution to food lovers.
"I have something that's rare - an open kitchen," Creasey tells me. "You can look in, order and see your steak. I just never imagined that this is where we would be right now. And the more people that know, the more angels that come out of the woodwork. Angels are everywhere, Kat, no one is ever alone. Even when you're in your darkest hour, there's always someone there to take that weight."
This all comes as the restaurant enters its 60th year. It was recently announced as a nominee for the People's Choice award for this year's Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. The humble restaurant locals have enjoyed for decades is finally receiving its just recognition - right when it will have to move to survive.
Too many of our restaurants have disappeared in Little Rock these past few years - from Cajun's Wharf to the Arkansas Burger Company, Chip's Barbecue and Silvek's European Bakery, The Villa and Sandy's Homeplace Cafe.
Creasey is hopeful the forced move will mean Black Angus will be able to keep going, and be able to celebrate this 60th birthday of an Arkansas classic.
"Behind every cloud is a blessing. You just have to find it," she says. "I'm not alone."