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TRANSITIONS

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published February 7, 2013 at 3:59 a.m.

Wendy McCrory, who owns and operates two Memphis-area outlets of

Memphis-based Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken (the one

on Front Street in Memphis and the one in Collierville,

Tenn.), confirms that the Little Rock branch will in fact

open this spring in what had been Redbone’s Downtown, 300

President Clinton Ave., in the River Market District.

Target date is sometime in March, but McCrory says

she’s expecting sometime in April to be more likely. It’ll

offer “the same menu, same recipes, same chicken, everything”

as in highly popular Memphis-area restaurants,

with the possibility of seasonal specials, “which we have

not [done] in the past,” like sweet-potato fries, “greens

when we can get them fresh,” cucumber salad and, perhaps

not as early as this year but eventually, Lenten catfish and

homemade jalapeno hush puppies. (She has been using

the Collierville place as a test kitchen as well as training

facility for a burgeoning franchise operation.)

The Little Rock Gus’s will serve beer in 40-ounce bottles

(requiring one or more extra fridges but eliminating the

need for taps) but will not have a full bar. Standard operating

hours across the minichain are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday,

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, but McCrory acknowledges

the local franchisee group (reported in last week’s Arkansas

Times as including Carter Malloy, a research analyst for

Stephens Inc.) might jigger the closing hours to take better advantage

of late-evening River Market foot traffic.

Details are coming in with grudging slowness, but we

have learned that there is a definite connection between

the Mamacita’s Bar & Grill “coming soon” to the former

Satellite Cafe, 5923 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, and the

Mamacita’s “coming soon” to the former Los Amigos, 2850

Prince St., Conway: The state Alcoholic Beverage Control

Board confirms that the alcoholic

beverage licenses for

both establishments (a full

restaurant bar license for

Little Rock and a private club

license for dry Conway) are

in the same name, Joseph M.

Park, who did not return a

phone message by deadline.

We just got word that Hot

Springs Brau Haus, 801 Central

Ave., Hot Springs, will close

at the end of the month. Details

are sketchy, but apparently

owner John Linehan is

looking at other projects after

17 years of operation. Nothing

special is planned, so far, in

the interim, we’re told. The

phone number is (501) 624-

7866.

Target date is next week for

the opening of Utopia Restaurant

and Lounge, 521 Center St.,

Little Rock, formerly the site

of something called Mediums

Art Lounge. The restaurant

will serve breakfast (including

chicken and waffles and

omelets), lunch and dinner

(the menu will feature, among

other things, wings, fried or

broiled tilapia and vegetarian

options), with a full bar that

will host bands after hours.

Right now, restaurant hours

are 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and

4-7:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday,

with breakfast times to be

announced. The phone number

is (501) 907-6688; there’s

a Facebook page: facebook.

com/utopia.littlerock.

...

There have been so many

twists and turns and kinks and,

quite frankly, stinks in the convoluted

history of Hunka Pie,

which originated in a corner

of an Argenta furniture store

and has migrated twice, first

to the former Hop Drive-In on

Cantrell Road, and eventually

to the former Starlite Diner,

at the meeting of MacArthur

Drive and Military Road in

North Little Rock.

To describe the restaurant’s

operating pattern as

“mercurial” would be an understatement.

Sometimes it

was open. Sometimes it was

closed. What hours it would

be open, or closed, seemed to

change on a whim. The inside

and sometimes the outside of

the front doors sported from

time to time a variety of signs,

some from owner-operator

Chris Monroe, some, reportedly,

from utility companies.

Keeping track of the doings,

or lack thereof, at that

establishment was so difficult

and all-consuming that

we finally, here at Transitions,

made a deliberate decision

not to pay any more attention

to Hunka Pie unless aliens

snatched the building from

the parking lot.

However, between a recent

flood of requests for

information from readers,

some of whom have shown

unprecedented loyalty and/or

concern for the business (and

some of whom hold apparently

unredeemable Groupons),

we will report what we know

to this point:

The restaurant has been

dark as the tomb for several

weeks. The listed telephone

number, (501) 224-1104, returns

a “not a working number”

recording. The restaurant

website, hunkapie.com,

has been taken down, though

a pop-up default site indicates

the domain name has recently

been re-registered.

Meanwhile, Monroe,

reached through e-mail a few

weeks ago, promised us details,

but since has not responded to

subsequent messages and has

not responded by deadline.

And Groupon Customer

Support sent out this message

to paying customers, offering

refunds where applicable: “Hi

[customer’s name deleted],

Thanks for your interest in the

Groupon for Hunka Pie. We

have heard that some of our

customers are having difficulty

redeeming their Groupons for

Hunka Pie because they may

have closed. Our apologies for

the inconvenience. We realize

how frustrating that can be

and we want to make it right

as soon as possible. To avoid

any further frustration, we have

canceled this deal.”

Now, a sharp-eyed observer

has sent us this following update:

“There is a sign on the

door of the Starlite Diner saying

‘Closed for repairs, reopening

soon, under new management.’”

And another sharpeyed

reader says the diner

owner (the sign still sits atop

the building, by the way) says

the “new management” is the

owner-operator of a neighboring

business, who plans to run

it with her son and hopes to be

open in about a month.

...

BJ’s Market Cafe, 45 Market

Plaza, off Arkansas 161 in North

Little Rock, will open a second

location Tuesday — that’s the

target, anyway — in what until

last Saturday had been Kierre’s

Kountry Kitchen, 6 Collins Industrial

Place, just off Maumelle

Boulevard on the North Little

Rock side of Maumelle. BJ’s

owner, Jeanna Whitley, says that

in addition to serving breakfast

and lunch, 5:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Tuesday-Saturday (similar to

the original location, which will

remain open), she’ll be adding

“fish and more” dinner Friday

and Saturday nights, continuously

operating those days from

5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Whitley says

she believes she’ll be able to

keep the Kierre’s phone number,

which is (501) 758-0903. Get

a look at her menu at bjsmarketcafe.

com.

Victorian Garden Bistro,

4801 North Hills Blvd., North

Little Rock, has added Monday

lunch — 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

— to its operating hours of

10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday-

Friday and 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Saturday. The phone number

remains (501) 758-4299; e-mail

margie@victoriangarden.biz or

visit victoriangarden.biz.

With more than 700 restaurants

to keep track of in the

Little Rock metropolitan area,

we admit we occasionally get

behind one curve or another,

and somehow missed the closure

of Fishermen Fish & Chicken

at 3400 E. Broadway, North

Little Rock, as well as the return

thereto of Young’s Catfish,

the previous occupant. Now a

sharp-eyed observer reports

that the restaurant was closed

“over the holidays for ‘remodeling’”;

a sign in the window said

they’d reopen in January, but

they didn’t. A call to the listed

number, (501) 945-3474, returns

a recording about how happy

AT&T will be to find us another

similar business.

And speaking of being behind

the curve, though apparently

it has been open for a few

months, we are just now finding

out about Eliella Ristorante and

Taqueria, 7700 Base Line Road,

Little Rock. Hours, according

to the gentleman who answered

the phone number, (501) 539-

5355, are 10 a.m.-8 p.m., daily.

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

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