Driving from Park Hill to Indian Hills, you’ve probably noticed the sign across the street from Roller Owens Funeral Home indicating the future site of Aydelotte’s at 5524 John F. Kennedy Blvd. Residents have been heard to call it “Ate-A-Lots” and “Idle-lots” among other things, prompting some to even stop at the construction site.
“Everybody’s asking how to pronounce it,” general manager Harvey Gardner says of the new venture by U.S. Pizza Company magnate Judy Waller.
The name is not the only thing piquing the interest of North Little Rock residents. General manager Mike Glaze says inquiring people have also stopped by U.S. Pizza Co.
“Lots of people are walking up to the register wanting to know about it,” says Glaze, who also manages one of the pizzerias. “People thought it would be a U.S. Pizza. It’s not.”
Striving for Fine Dining
Recognized by Arkansas Business in 1999 as one of the top 100 business women in the state, Waller consulted Gardner then decided to make the restaurant more than just an upscale pizzeria. Based on Waller’s mother’s maiden name, the correct pronunciation of Aydelotte’s will remain a mystery until the grand opening, along with the featured exotic dishes.
Yet this much is known: in addition to steaks, seafood, pastas, and salads, a limited menu featuring seasonal items will rotate through the year. Plans call for dinners only at first, with a gradual move to lunch as well.
“It’s evolved into a fine dining restaurant just for the fact that North Little Rock hasn’t had something nice since Sirloin’s Inn opened in the ’70s that’s not a national chain,” Gardner says.
“Cassinelli’s was the last one,” he says. “The response has been enormous.”
“People are stopping by (the construction site),” Gardner continues. “They want a fine dining restaurant not on restaurant row.”
The two Northeast graduates follow each other’s thoughts as only old acquaintances can. They began working together at the original U.S. Pizza Co. in Levy. Both earned degrees in Restaurant and Hotel Management. Glaze worked in Las Vegas, Colorado and Branson as well as Little Rock’s Cajun’s Wharf. Gardner opened Rodney Parham’s U.S. Pizza in 1990, as well as Fat Tuesday’s USA, a fine dining Cajun restaurant formerly downtown. Gardner has already hired Fat Tuesday’s chef, Colby Smith of North Little Rock.
“We have homegrown Dogtown people doing it and proud of it,” Glaze says.
A Historical Site
According to The Times of North Little Rock, Waller purchased the property in July 2003 after assuring owner J. Donald Hayes that the house would not be torn down. One of only two remaining model homes built by original owner Justin Matthews in 1935, the 2,600-square-foot two-story home featured a living room, formal dining room, small kitchen, four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large garage. A circular driveway provided access to JFK, and woods surrounded the house.
Waller saved as many trees as possible, including 40-to-60 feet of greenway that provides a buffer between the restaurant and neighbors to the east. Gardner said City Council concerns about the hillside cut and retaining walls have been “squared away.”
“They just wanted the property to have street appeal,” Gardner says. “The property itself will be a work of art inside and out from the menu to the décor to landscaping … everything.”
Upper-level parking behind the house will accommodate 60 automobiles, with recessed stairs leading to the house-level parking. Handicapped parking occupies some of the 11 spots at house level, allowing direct entry to the patio entrance and the handicapped-accessible downstairs. A driveway circles through the parking levels, around the house, and exits onto JFK from the original driveway. While additional parking with an adjacent property owner on 56th has yet to be confirmed, Gardner says proposed valet parking would be available at the front of the building.
Plans call for a 15-foot-wide iron gazebo covering the stairs from valet parking, leading up to a 1,500-square-foot patio with flagstone flooring shaded nearly 70 percent of the day. In addition to a rock outdoor fireplace, Gardner says the center of the patio will feature a 12-foot water fountain surrounded by seating.
“We’re going to have (outside) heaters in the winter, and misters in the summer and early fall,” Glaze says.
This should keep patrons outside to hear live acoustic acts performing on the patio, and perhaps inside at night. Last renovated in the early 1990s, the original building remains intact, but gained an additional 2,000 square feet over the last year. Gardner says Aydelotte’s will hold up to 140 patrons between the patio and the building.
“When I came last August, we were just going to add a kitchen in the back,” says Gardner, who once delivered papers to the house in the mid-1970s. “I spent from August to January drawing up plans. I drew up a dozen different floor plans until we agreed on what we wanted.”
The only wall removed in the building once separated the kitchen from the dining room, sporting the original working fireplace. A spiral staircase may tempt the public, but will only be accessible to the wait staff due to liability reasons. The kitchen resides in the former garage, with 500 square feet added for room.
“The kitchen is hid from the view from most guests,” Gardner says, noting that only guests in the original dining room will see it.
Upstairs, converted bedrooms now house dining areas that can seat parties of 20. Some tables overlook iron bars into the new dining area, accessible by stairs which also lead to the rear parking area. Walking down the stairs, remnants of the former roof’s outline remain.
“You can see the old and the new matching up,” Gardner says. “If there’s a big enough party, we can sit people in (the large dining room).”
The 1,500-square-foot dining area addition will feature artwork, accent lights around the dining area, and iron chandeliers hanging between six mahogany columns. Gardner estimates the European columns are more than a century old.
“I wish we had the history on them,” he says. “They’re hand carved. They don’t do that anymore.”
Iron fencing will separate seating on both sides of the columns, accenting the walkway and leading around the focal point of the room, a 30-foot mahogany bar surround by 10 barstools. The fully-stocked bar features draft and bottle beers, a martini menu and an extensive wine list of 35-40 brands. Though a plasma TV will allow Aydelotte’s patrons to follow the Razorbacks, Glaze says the business will not become a sports bar.
“The whole concept was to have alcohol to accent the food,” Gardner says. “It’s a restaurant serving alcohol to complement the food.”
While residents sipped libations with their meals throughout North Little Rock over the years, John F. Kennedy Boulevard remained dry from Park Hill to Kierre Road. According to historical copies of The Times, a 1960 general election attempted to dry up all of Wards 3 and 4, but dry forces lost. Though no liquor stores resided in the six precincts bordering or encompassing JFK prior to 1966, a number of retail outlets provided beer for off-premises consumption, and a pizza parlor sold beer for on-premise consumption.
The move to dry up the precincts grew from attempts to thwart the transfer of a retail liquor permit from 2621 Main St. to 4708 JFK. At an hour-and-a-half public hearing, ministers from Lakewood Methodist Church, Park Hill Christian Church, Park Hill Baptist Church and the Lakehill Assembly of God Church protested along with a layman and a high school student to that building’s “particular location” near the churches at the intersection of JFK and McCain boulevards, which divides the residential areas of Lakewood to the east, with Ridgeroad and Pike View Schools to the west.
Following the meeting, the Alcoholic Beverage Control commission ruled to allow the move to the east side of JFK. The Times ran an editorial entitled “Please Resist Sectionalism,” stating the hope that a wet-dry election would not be forced. While conceding the city had too many liquor stores, the editorial claimed the city also had too much emphasis on sections of the city and “not enough on North Little Rock as a whole.”
“When you try to dry up one ward or a couple of precincts, you are giving legal sanction to a theory that it’s okay for one part of town to have to tolerate liquor stores but not for another,” the editorial claimed. “We don’t think anybody really believes that. If they do, they are more interested in shielding their neighborhood than in keeping people from drinking whiskey.”
After the approved transfer, a group calling itself Operation BALK (Be Against Liquor on Kennedy) formed from a nucleus of the protesters. They gathered 538 names in a two-day petition drive, easily surpassing the 425 names required to put the wet-dry question on the ballot. The group’s attorney, Tom Glaze, went on to become a state Supreme Court Justice. But in 1966, he had just finished law school when the Park Hill Christian Church’s pastor asked him to help.
“He did them a favor,” Mike Glaze says. “I don’t blame the churches 30 years ago for not wanting beer sold across the street.”
Prior to the election, a second organization called The North Little Rock Citizens for Legal Control claimed the best interests of the community would be serviced by retaining the proven system of legal control. The Sherwood resident who started the organization said he felt if the residents of the six precincts voted to dry the areas up, the areas should not benefit from tax revenues from the sale of liquor in other areas. The group sent a letter to voters calling the election “an attempt to force Prohibition on you” and claiming “if the sale of beer and liquor becomes illegal, possession of beer or liquor in homes is also limited by law.”
BALK countered with a two-color brochure detailing the growth of businesses on Kennedy since 1926 and rhetorically asking, “The one liquor store at 4708 JFK is only the beginning of the problem. Where will they draw the line?” Voters in the six precincts of Ward 4 voted by a 3 to 2 margin to outlaw the sale of alcoholic beverages in the general election. According to The Times, the vote tallied 852 for sales of liquor to 1,214 against the sale. The North Little Rock History Commission says votes in 1978 and 1980 failed to repeal the law.
Decades after BALK, Liquor Advances
Tom W. “Trey” Waller of Little Rock, Judy’s son, filed an application in September 2003 with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for a private club permit to allow Aydelotte’s to serve beer, wine and liquor in an otherwise dry portion of the city. Nearly 38 years after BALK, no one opposed the application.
“The times they’re changing,” Gardner says. “The alcohol issue is not as big of a deal as it was in the past. In my opinion, you can’t stop progress. We’re not near the churches. We’re stuck right in the middle of Park Hill and Indian Hills. There’s no alcohol until you get to Indian Hills. There’s nothing down here but businesses.”
A private club permit will allow Aydelotte’s to remain open until 2 a.m. Although the full menu will only be available until 11 p.m., a late-night menu will offer appetizers. In addition, the permit guarantees that the smoking issue will not affect Aydelotte’s if North Little Rock decides to follow Fayetteville’s lead and bar smoking.
Applications will be taken on-site beginning July 15 for all positions. For more information, email Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While a change in state law no longer requires businesses with private club permits to charge a minimum “membership fee” to those wishing to join, Aydelotte’s will offer charter memberships (lifetime), annual memberships and corporate memberships for three to 20 people. Though pricing has yet to be determined, plans call for selling memberships online through the U.S. Pizza Co. Web site at http://www.uspizzaco.net/.
“We want to sell memberships on the Web site before we open,” Gardner says. “We’d like to sell as many as possible online and alleviate the long lines when we open up. We’ll start as soon as we get the site up, hopefully by the end of July. They’re re-working the whole thing right now, so it may not be up and running for a couple of weeks.”
Meanwhile, Gardner and Glaze sweat over the details in preparation for Aydelotte’s opening this fall. They predict the restaurant will be a great place for local business, and will generate more traffic in the corridor. Gardner plans for more than just “sectional” success.
“Our game plan is for this to be if not the top restaurant in the state, at least within the top three.”
NOTE: Former editions of The Times of North Little Rock provided background material in this article.
This article originally appeared in the July 1-31, 2004 issue of the Little Rock Free Press.
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