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story.lead_photo.caption Jack Sundell, owner of the Root Cafe and Mockingbird Bar and Tacos, sets up lights Friday in the SOMA Outdoor Dining Room at 13th and Main Streets in Little Rock. The space will be open 11 a.m-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday with patrons able to order from seven participating restaurants. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Seven food purveyors on Little Rock's Main Street south of Interstate 630 have banded together under the auspices of the Little Rock Downtown Partnership to create the SoMa Outdoor Dining Room -- 20 tents with chairs and tables -- in the parking lot at 1301 Main.

Jack Sundell, who operates The Root at 1500 Main and Mockingbird Bar & Tacos at 1220 Main, is spearheading the project with the help of the Downtown Partnership's Gabe Holmstrom.

Also participating are South on Main, 1304 Main; Esters, 1214 Main; Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom, 1318 Main; Community Bakery, 1200 Main; and Loblolly Creamery, 1423 Main.

The outdoor space, which opened Friday, will be open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

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Customers will order food to go from one of the restaurants and carry it to the tents. Holmstrom said there will be six seats at each table, which will be far enough apart to observe social distancing.

The Downtown Little Rock Partnership has supplied most of the tents and all the tables, chairs, sandbags and barricade sections for the perimeter.

"It'll be a place to go after you get takeout," Sundell said. At some point, it might even be possible to get the restaurants to bring the food to the diner. "We are all doing delivery anyway," he added.

"The goal is to give restaurant patrons a place to sit that isn't dine-in and doesn't require service," Sundell said in an email to SoMA merchants. "The involved restaurants will share staffing responsibilities, which will include making sure patrons follow guidelines, asking patrons to clean up after themselves and sanitizing their seating area after they've left."

At present, tent diners will not be able to order, carry or consume alcoholic beverages because the parking lot is not adjacent to any establishment with a permit. Anybody drinking in the tents basically will be drinking in public, which is against the law outside an entertainment district.

Sundell said the restaurateurs are seeking a temporary entertainment district permit from the city with hopes of an expedited process.

SoMa 501, a neighborhood nonprofit, is covering the cost of a banner. Rocktown Distillery is supplying hand sanitizer. Parking lot owner Rusty Thompson is providing the space at no charge, Sundell said, and the Quapaw Central Business Improvement District is providing lights.

Approval for the project came as part of Mayor Frank Scott Jr.'s temporary outdoor dining initiative. The Capitol Zoning Commission has issued a renewable eight-week permit, he said.


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