Food news in Little Rock is heating up thanks to a big announcement by chefs Kelli Marks and Donnie Ferneau.
The two unveiled plans for Cathead's Diner, set to open in early 2018. The restaurant will feature Southern-style favorites as part of its breakfast, brunch, lunch and pastry and dessert menus.
While barbecue and Southern food is a far cry from Donnie's last restaurant, Good Food by Ferneau, Kelli Marks says this restaurant venture (and the barbecue recipe) was a long time coming.
"We’re ready to cook what Little Rock wants," she says. "Little Rock has great barbecue places, but we feel like there’s a need for good, quick-serve Southern food. Good Food was something I was personally interested in, but we feel like Cathead’s is something everyone in Little Rock will enjoy."
Cathead's does, however, mean an end for Marks' Sweet Love catering business, but it will live on through items that will be available at Cathead's. Marks says she plans on keeping customer favorites such as her brown butter chocolate chip cookies, award-winning sweet potato pie and several of her well-loved cake recipes. Brides-to-be can still book Wedding Cakes by Kelli, but they will be sold through Cathead's. Unfortunately, any Sweet Love items not on Cathead's menu will no longer be available for order.
But fret not, sweet-toothed friends — Marks has big plans for the pasty and dessert menu at Cathead's.
"I’m really excited about the doughnut program we’re launching at Cathead’s," she says. "Think cupcakes for doughnuts — we’re offering the turtle doughnut, key lime pie doughnut, crème brulee doughnut, as well as traditional options. We say doughnuts, but they’re not just for breakfast."
The new restaurant will go into the Paint Factory in Little Rock's East Village, which is undergoing a big revitalization movement spearheaded by businesses like Lost Forty Brewing, Rebel Kettle and Cromwell Architects Engineers.
The Paint Factory, a mixed-use development overseen by Cromwell Architects Engineers, will be home to Cromwell’s new headquarters as well as retail space and 12 Star Flats loft apartments.
Though the area is a bit less populated than Ferneau's previous restaurant neighborhoods, Marks says she's excited about the prospect of helping to bring business to this forgotten part of town.
"We’ve seen all of the good things that have been happening in this area with Rebel Kettle, Lost Forty and Rocktown Distillery, and wanted to be a part of this effort," Marks says. "We feel like this will be a convenient lunch spot for downtown diners without having to fight for a parking spot. We also think that this will give a lunch spot to the hidden businesses in east Little Rock who don’t have a place to grab a good bite for lunch."
Since Cathead's will be going into a historic building, Marks and Ferneau wanted to maintain its character, while making the restaurant feel light and open.
"We’re looking to utilize a lot of the elements that are already in place, such as exposed brick and wood walls, and adding ash tables and an open kitchen layout," Marks says.
While early 2018 seems entirely too long to wait for delicious doughnuts and barbecue, Marks and Ferneau's passion makes it clear it'll be well worth the wait.
"I’ve worked with a lot of chefs over the years and I can honestly say Donnie is the most passionate about what he creates," Marks says. "I’m really excited to be able to get the two of us in the kitchen together to see what new things we’re able to bring to Little Rock."
Oh, and what's the story behind the restaurant's name, you ask?
"Like many kids in our generation, I grew up learning from my grandmother," Marks says. "She taught me how to make her cathead’s yeast rolls and they were always a favorite at any holiday. The term “cathead” is an old Southern term that refers to the biscuits large size. Who doesn’t love a biscuit the size of a cat’s head?"
Touché, Kelli. Touché.
For all things Cathead's and to keep up to date on developments, head to the restaurant's Facebook page.