Skinny J's Owner James Best Opens New Jonesboro Venture

by Graycen Colbert Bigger  on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 10:57 am   2 min read

James Best, the 31-year-old Arkansas chef and restaurateur behind Skinny J's, has opened a new restaurant, Eleanor's Pizzeria, in Jonesboro. (Graycen Colbert Bigger)

"I've always wanted a pizza place," said James Best, the 31-year-old Arkansas chef and restaurateur, while leaned back in the corner booth of his newest venture in downtown Jonesboro.   

Now, seven years after starting the a successful mini-chain of Skinny J's restaurants in northeast and central Arkansas, Best is bringing something new to the local food scene.  

Eleanor's Pizzeria, named for Best's young daughter, opened in May after a year-long renovation. The restaurant, located next door to Skinny J's at 211 S. Main St., presents a quieter, family-style atmosphere with pies designed to share.

"It's definitely meant to be a smaller, more intimate type of restaurant than our other projects," explained Regional Manager Sarah Reeves, who oversees all four of Best's restaurants. "The menu and the space allow for more opportunity to get to know people over great food." 

While Skinny J's is known for its casual atmosphere, live music and comfort food, Eleanor's Pizzeria feels more upscale and contemporary, offering a pared-down selection of oversized, 18-inch New York-style pizzas and salads.  

"This particular restaurant has a very local vibe," Reeves said. "We have seasonal options made with local produce purchased right here at the farmers' market. We also make our own dough and offer several Arkansas craft beers."  

Best got his start in the restaurant business in 2009 after returning to northeast Arkansas from Wales Culinary School in Charlotte, North Carolina. He opened the first Skinny J's in the small town of Cash (population 342) outside Jonesboro with a sole-ownership investment of $25,000. But with staples like shrimp and grits, homemade pastas and certified Angus ribeye, the restaurant quickly became a destination. Despite its success, Best closed the Cash location a year later and moved to Main Street in Jonesboro in December 2010.

The second Skinny J's opened in 2013 in downtown Paragould. The $450,000 renovation earned Skinny J's a Main Street Arkansas award for "Best Downtown Food & Entertainment Business." The Argenta location in North Little Rock followed in 2015.    

According to Reeves, the three stores earned a combined annual revenue of about $6 million last year. Although Skinny J's has been open for seven years, the restaurants are still averaging a 20 percent increase in yearly sales. That revenue accounted for a little more than $500,000 in state and local taxes during 2016. 

While Eleanor's Pizzeria opened its doors just three months ago, Best said it's performing stronger than originally predicted. He attributes the success to consistency in a quality product and low staff turnover. 

Best is on the lookout for expansion. He said he's looking at locations in Conway and, possibly, northwest Arkansas.

"We know we haven't seen it all or done it all," Reeves said. "We're always listening to our customers and looking for new opportunities to improve and grow."



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