Since we may be headed for a bit of normalcy later this year, that may include going out to eat in restaurants. What initially inspired some of our local restauranteurs to open their places? Jack Sundell, Sara Slimp, Sally Mengel, Sami Lal from Star of India, Don Dugan, and others tell us their stories!
Jack Sundell’s young life experiences led him to open The Root Café in 2011. The Root Café’s intimate atmosphere was inspired by his volunteerism with the Peace Corp and the idea for locally sourced foods was inspired by his work with Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. The Root Café mission statement is “Building Community through Local Food” and according to Sundell “It means everything!” The ideals behind the phrase are strengthening the local food economy by supporting Arkansas farmers and producers, educating consumers about the positive economic and environmental impact of local purchasing and fostering a sense of pride in Little Rock and Arkansas. The Root Café has been recognized with national awards, a $25,000 grant voted on by viewers of HLN’s “Growing America: A Journey to Success” and a $150,000 grant from Chase’s Mission Main Street Project. The Food Network has also visited The Root Café, with Simon Majumdar helping to judge a “Traditional Pie Bake-off” at the event.
Sundell will talk about the challenges of finding local products and keeping them in steady supply, the challenges of running a restaurant and juggling his family and work life as well as answer listener questions. Jack’s wife Corri is also his business partner and they have 3 children making The Root Cafe a truly family business.
Sara Slimp owner of Chunky Dunk, a cookies and milk food truck started in Fayetteville. Sara hadn't planned on going into business for herself but happened across an opportunity to share her love of baking by picking up a 1-year lease on a food truck. She was about to graduate with a master's in social work but decided to not pass up a chance to indulge her love of baking. Surprisingly a milk-and-cookies food truck was just what the food truck world needed in Fayetteville. Within the first two weeks after graduating college she'd made her first $1,400 and two weeks after that she secured a collaboration with Loblolly Creamery. After one year, she is "in the black" financially.
Sally Mengel is co-founder of Loblolly Creamery which started in 2011 in Little Rock, making small batches of artisan ice cream. The company has grown from just 8 flavors of ice cream to much more including wholesale ice creams to restaurants, soda syrups, bottled drinks and kumbucha. The recipes use no artifical additives, preservatives or coloring and many of the ingredients are local. Currently a number of Arkansas restaurants carry Loblolly Creamery ice creams on their menus but those craving ice cream can still go straight to the shop on Main Street in Little Rock to get their fix. Saveur Magazine listed two of Loblolly's recipes in their book "Ice Cream Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States."
Sami Lal was born in India north of Punjab, near the famed Golden Temple. He started in the restaurant business in 1973 as a supervisor of a continental cuisine restaurant in West Germany. Eventually, Sami landed in Dallas Texas where he lived and worked for several years. He then moved to Little Rock and founded the Star of India, an unassuming restaurant known for its fragrant spices, above average service and Sami’s unwavering hospitality and love of life and people.
Don Dugan is the owner/operator of Stratton’s Market & Skye’s Bistro. Don was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1969, and graduated Parkview High School in 1987. He went on to attend both ASU and UALR. Since then, he has built an extensive and expansive culinary industry resume, spanning throughout central Arkansas. His first restaurant job was at Shoney’s on Markham in 1984. He began his career in the food industry as a server and dishwasher. Through years of public relations and mastering his craft, Don steadily rose in rank and responsibility, working his way out of the dish pits into bar tending (Shorty Small’s). From there h e was promoted to Front of House Lead and then became Assistant Director of Food and Beverage at the Chenal Country Club. As he worked each new position, he gained a greater understanding of the requirements needed to succeed in the restaurant industry. He was soon hired by Kelly’s Bistro as Acting Director of Food and Beverage. He advanced to Assistant Manager at Julies, and finally General Manager of LaScala and the Afterthought.