RESTAURANT TRANSITIONS: Taziki’s growth plan includes more Arkansas outlets; Whataburger opens

The Taziki's Mediterranean Grill at 8200 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, repaired damage and reopened with two weeks of the March 31 tornado. The chain-franchise operation, based in Birmingham, Ala., has plans to expand by 10-15 restaurants a year, including additional outlets in Arkansas.

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)
The Taziki's Mediterranean Grill at 8200 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, repaired damage and reopened with two weeks of the March 31 tornado. The chain-franchise operation, based in Birmingham, Ala., has plans to expand by 10-15 restaurants a year, including additional outlets in Arkansas. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison)

Birmingham, Ala.-based Taziki's Mediterranean Grill is looking to expand, primarily across the Southwest, as it turns 25, with a post-covid plan to add 10-15 restaurants a year for the next several years, says CEO Dan Simpson, a former franchisee hired to head the chain in 2018. (You can thank Simpson, by the way, for putting the lamb burger and spicy harissa chicken on Taziki's menu.)

Simpson says the chain is planning to bridge its current Birmingham-Nashville-Memphis-Little Rock-Northwest Arkansas axis, totaling 80-plus outlets in 16 states by adding locations in and around New Orleans (one opens in the Metairie suburb in about 45 days) and in Texas, starting in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex but also with an eye toward Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

And yes, adds Arkansas franchisee Jim Keet, he's looking at adding more Taziki's restaurants where the demographics meet the company's criteria, particularly in Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock areas, but he and his partners are also looking "diligently" at the data for other spots, including Hot Springs and Jonesboro.

Meanwhile, two of the four Taziki's outlets in Little Rock, at 8200 Cantrell Road and 12800 Chenal Parkway, that suffered damage from the March 31 tornado have reopened -- in the case of the former, within only 13 days. Both stores lost HVAC systems from their roofs; the Cantrell Road location also lost its exhaust system and a gas leak that affected the entire strip center where it's located had to be taken care of.

Staff from Taziki's and of some of the other establishments operating under Keet's JTJ Restaurants banner, including Petit & Keet, on the edge of the Breckenridge neighborhood that the twister devastated, and Cypress Social, off Maumelle Boulevard in North Little Rock, stepped forward to feed first responders, volunteers and victims, serving at one point about 1,500 people in a single day.

Keet's current major project is the renovation of the Breckenridge Village Shopping Center, which also suffered considerable damage to the exterior of its buildings, though not that much structural damage. Expect current restaurants Eat My Catfish and Mt. Fuji to remain; the center will acquire an outlet of Waldo's Chicken & Beer and a second location of Hot Springs' Deluca's Pizza, though Keet says he's not going to open a Taziki's there -- he says it would likely cannibalize business for the Cantrell Road and Chenal Parkway stores.


The first Whataburger to open in Central Arkansas since the chain changed ownership and moved its headquarters from Chicago to Texas was set to debut Wednesday at 17100 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock. A spokesman for the chain confirms that the dining room and drive-thru will be open 24/7. Delivery and online ordering via the Whataburger App and will be available in the coming weeks. We're awaiting a telephone number. Meanwhile, Whataburger outlets are also pending at 13401 Crystal Hill Road, at Maumelle Boulevard near the Walmart, just on the North Little Rock side of Maumelle; at 3900 E. Race Ave., Searcy; at 7520 Alcoa Road, Benton; and, possibly, at 4104 Central Ave., Hot Springs. Currently, Whataburger has two outlets in Fayetteville and one each in Magnolia, Rogers, Siloam Springs, Springdale, Texarkana, Fort Smith and El Dorado.

We now have confirmation that Baton Rouge-based Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux is going into the former Mellow Mushroom location in the Chenal Marketplace center, 16103 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock. We don't yet have a timeline but the build-out is currently in progress. Walk-On's has locations in Conway, Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Rogers; franchisee Chris McJunkins also owns several in Louisiana.

We've confirmed a tip we got a couple of weeks ago that the Little Caesars in the Tanglewood Shopping Center, 7509 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, is moving across the street to the site of the former Hubcap Burger, the latest of several restaurants to occupy that building at 7410 Cantrell Road, which has been fenced off in preparation for construction. The new location has, among other advantages, an already-existing drive-thru window. Michael Fritz, president and partner of Little Caesars Pizza of Arkansas Inc., tells AY Magazine that the move will also "make it easier for people to grab dinner from us on their evening commute home." There's a fall target to open.

A reader tells us the former Chicken Wangs III, 9201 Maumelle Blvd, North Little Rock, is now, or is soon set to be, something called Enjoy ... Chicken and Rice. We don't yet have any details but a sign on the building includes a phone number -- (501) 379-8576 -- that produced only a voicemail telling us to leave a message.

And for April's Pulaski County Food Truck Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. today in the parking lot of the county Administration Building, 201 S. Broadway, Little Rock, look for these vendors: Lili's Mexican Street Food, Banada Burger, JMG Mobile Grilling, Rock City Dogs, Mike's Rolled Ice Cream, Fry Fry Crazy, K&J Treatz and Mr. Keith's Kettlecorn. Need more information? Email Mark Hulsey at


We now have a few more details on Park Grill, the new restaurant at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, 501 E. Ninth St. in Little Rock's MacArthur Park, set to open May 4. The restaurant seats approximately 100 with views of the museum's outdoor sculptures, landscaped event lawn and the park -- including the pond -- with outdoor dining options and "a spacious private dining room," according to a news release. Altus H. Buttry joins the staff as executive sous chef; David Sumpter joins as director of food and beverage; and, as we have reported, Jeffrey Williams, late of Soul Fish, is the restaurant's general manager.

Executive chef Patrick Herron's 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday lunch menu, which he has described as "recognizable food with an artistic flair," includes, among the starters, spring asparagus soup, an artichoke hummus bowl, blackened tuna, sea salted sweet potato fries with "Delta Comeback Sauce" and pimento cheese with bloody Mary kettle chips. There's a roasted beet salad and Herron's signature Park Smoked Chicken Waldorf; sandwiches include a "cheesy" grilled cheese, the Park Grill Burger (on which Buttry particularly bragged), house-roasted turkey and brie, a shiitake panini and a crispy chicken schnitzel.

Among the entrees: seared salmon; pan-roasted, bone-in chicken breast; Creole shrimp and Ralston Farms rice grits; sautéed spring vegetable pasta; and savory meatloaf. And for dessert, a brownie bar with house-made salted caramel ice cream; an orange almond cake with honey-soaked berries; and Peach Melba. Herron plans to use as many locally sourced ingredients as he can. Look, at least for the moment, for the restaurant to serve small plates from 2-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, with full dinner menu and Sunday brunch surfacing somewhere down the line.


Garrett Moore, who puts together a column similar to this one called "Let's Eat" for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reports on two haute-cuisine establishments pending up that way:

A French restaurant, Bienvenue, with a mid-May target to open at 101 W. Johnson Ave., Suite B, Springdale, according to chef and co-owner William Mauk. Mauk tells Moore he has spent time in the kitchen at a five-star restaurant in New Orleans and is trained in French fine dining and plans to present refined versions of familiar dishes. Ingredients will be sourced "as locally as possible" and the menu will change often, he says.

Bentonville creperie Crepes Paulette is opening a Fayetteville location, at 2341 N. College Ave., and Moore reports co-founder Paula Henry hopes to be serving sweet and savory handheld crepes, along with some soups and drinks, as soon as this summer. She and Frédéric Henry opened a food truck by that name in downtown Bentonville in 2010. They opened a restaurant at 100 S.W. Eighth St., Bentonville, in 2016.


And in the world of food-related fundraisers:

Wild Wines 2023, benefiting the Arkansas Zoological Foundation for the Little Rock Zoo, takes place on two parts this weekend:

VIP Night, 7-9 p.m. Friday in and around the zoo's Café Africa and the Civitan Pavilion, featuring premium wines from O'Looney's Wine and Liquor and food from "the best area restaurants," according to the website, plus live music and visits with the Zoo's Animal Ambassadors. The $85 ticket ($175 VIP) also includes admission to ...

The "Mane" event, 7-10 p.m. Saturday, with more than 200 wines to sample and food from dozens of restaurants and caterers. Animal Ambassadors greet guests and there will be live music throughout the Zoo. Tickets are the same price. (Not a wine drinker? There will be beer and other beverages.)

You must be 21 or older, of course, to attend. In case of rain, the Saturday night event will move to a designated alternate venue. Visit

And Tara Ricardo, an employee of Chicken Salad Chick for nearly three years who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that presents medical problems including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning challenges (but which, according to the Williams Syndrome Foundation, "often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities, and an affinity for music"), is putting together her third annual Williams Syndrome Awareness Fundraiser at Central Arkansas' three Chicken Salad Chick outlets -- Monday at 17400 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock; May 19 at 20370 Interstate 30, Benton; and May 26 at 3901 Warden Road, North Little Rock, all open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. The restaurants will donate 10% of sales, plus donations and the proceeds from the sale of T-shirts, to the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College 3D Program, which provides post-secondary educational opportunities to a diverse student population. Musicians Christine DeMeo and Jacob Flores will perform. Visit

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. Send email to:

  photo  Lili's Mexican Street Food is one of the food trucks taking part in today's Pulaski County Food Truck Thursday. (Democrat-Gazette file photo/Eric E. Harrison)

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