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TRANSITIONS

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published October 11, 2012 at 3:08 a.m.

— By now you have read or heard of the closing of The Villa, in the Rock Creek Square Shopping Center, 12111 W. Markham St., Little Rock. Appeals last month via social media outlets to save the half-century-old Italian restaurant, receipts for which Business section columnist Jack Weatherly confirmed had dropped drastically in the past year, came too little, too late. Though once word got out (primarily via Facebook) that the place was shutting down, customers came out of the woodwork. (The restaurant ran out of food at least twice on the day it closed its doors, Oct. 4.)

Owner Ken Shivey, who took the place over with his late partner, Marty Enderlin, 34 years ago from the couple who founded it in 1960, continues to cast blame on area folks’ love affair with chain restaurants. (There are three Italian-restaurant chain outlets within a couple of miles of the Villa — Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill and Bravo! Cucina Italiana; Macaroni Grill is a couple of blocks east on West Markham Street. Take your pick.)

Shivey, on the evening the place closed, was still a little combative about shutting down, vowing that while he’ll be taking some time, he’ll be looking seriously at an opportunity to someday reopen.

Ironically, perhaps, the closure came almost exactly a year to the day after the closing of the even more venerable Bruno’s Little Italy, which had been a couple of blocks away on North Bowman Road. Like the Villa, it was a family-run operation. It was in its third location (two of which had been in west Little Rock). Its ownership, in its waning days, inveighed publicly about the competition with chain restaurants. And the family that ran it is still planning to reopen and actively working on finding a suitable location.

For a good many years, when these were pretty much the only two major Italian restaurants in town (Bruno’s started on Roosevelt Road in the late ’40s, then moved, first to Old Forge Road and then to Bowman Curve; the Villa, which started on Hayes Street, later University Avenue, moved first to what was then the Holiday Inn West on Shackleford Road, then to the West Markham shopping center) divided diners’ loyalties. Italian-food aficionados patronized one or the other, but very few patronized both. One of those who did: Shivey, who recalls severely puzzling their staff one day by showing up at Bruno’s then-location on Old Forge Road and ordering a pizza.

And speaking of pizza, Ohio-based franchiser Marco’s Pizza’s new west Little Rock outlet, 11601 N. Rodney Parham Road, is now open. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is (501) 978-0022.

The area’s latest Tropical Smoothie outlet has opened in the Park Avenue development on South University Avenue. Hours are 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. The telephone number is (501) 280-9988.

Five Arkansas restaurants — Flying Fish and Layla’s Gyros & Pizzeria in Little Rock and Geraldi’s, Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese and Hugo’s in Fayetteville — are on the list of online restaurant guide Urbanspoon’s “America’s Most Popular Cheap Eats.” You can find the complete list of 100 restaurants (from 61 metropolitan areas in 27 states) “where grabbing a bite won’t break the bank” at urbanspoon.com/ blog/107/Americas-Most-Popular-Cheap-Eats.

Four Arkansas barbecue meccas are part of the Daily Meal’s (TheDailyMeal.com) “Ultimate BBQ Road Trip” across the southern part of the country, spanning 21 days and 16 states: McClard’s in Hot Springs (Day 17), Craig’s in De-Valls Bluff (also Day 17), Jones’ BBQ Diner in Marianna (part of Day 18) and J&N Barbeque in Bono (part of Day 20).

And speaking of Arkansas barbecue, the Fire Dancer team from Bryant has qualified to participate in the second annual Sam’s Club National BBQ Tourchampionship, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of Sam’s Club corporate headquarters, 2101 S.E. Simple Savings Drive, Bentonville. The team won in the barbecued pork category and finished seventh overall in the regional qualifying event at St. Charles, Mo., on Sept. 29. They will be competing with 49 other teams for a total purse of $500,000 and a national championship title, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

And Applebee’s restaurants has kicked off its annual fundraiser for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, trying to raise $67,000 for central and western Oklahoma, Tulsa and Arkansas affiliates. Donate at least $1 through Oct. 28 and you’ll be able to personalize a pink paper ribbon to hang in the restaurant.

Has a restaurant opened — or closed — near you in the last week or so? Does your favorite eatery have a new menu? Is there a new chef in charge? Drop us a line. Call (501) 399-3667 or (501) 378-3513, or send a note to Restaurants, Weekend Section, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 121 E. Capitol Ave., Little Rock, Ark. 72201. Send e-mail to:

eharrison@arkansasonline.com

Weekend, Pages 38 on 10/11/2012

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