Chili's Wins Tight Battle for LR Restaurant Dollars

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Apr. 19, 2004 12:00 am  

Top Restaurants in Little Rock
•?Click here to see the list of city's top restaurants.
•?Click here for a printable PDF version.

Top Restaurants in North Little Rock
•?Clickhere to see the list of city's top restaurants.
•?Click here for a printable PDF version.

Less than $50,000 separated the three highest-grossing restaurants in Little Rock in 2003, but those few dollars mean a mighty difference in rankings.

Chili's Grill & Bar at 10700 N. Rodney Parham Road emerged on top while Red Lobster, last year's No. 1, assumed Chili's previous place at No. 3. Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster's traditional rival for the top spot, remained in second place.

Red Lobster recorded a minuscule (0.23 percent) increase in sales, and Outback added 5.43 percent to its 2002 gross. But those weren't enough to overcome an 8.41 percent increase in Chili's performance.

The 30 highest-grossing restaurants in Little Rock reported nearly $68 million in revenue last year to the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, which collects a 2 percent "hotel-motel-restaurant" tax on gross food receipts.

That was a 3.72 percent increase over sales by the top 30 eateries in 2002; however, the price of admission to the list fell slightly. The No. 30 entry on this year's list, Fazoli's at 12318 Chenal Parkway, had sales of just over $1.5 million, compared with almost $1.63 million for last year's No. 30, the cafeteria at St. Vincent Infirmary.

The St. Vincent cafeteria, managed by Morrison Management Specialists, moved up to No. 29 this year, despite a 5.85 percent decline in gross receipts.

The highest-ranking newcomer to the Little Rock restaurant list is the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) on Hermitage Road in west Little Rock. Opened in late 2002, its sales topped $2.1 million last year.

Additional advertising for IHOP (which opened a North Little Rock location in 2001) appears to have renewed interest in the area's original pancake house at 101 N. University Ave. It entered the list at No. 19 with sales of $1.85 million last year, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2002.

As usual, the top-ranked non-chain restaurant in Little Rock is Cajun's Wharf at 2400 Cantrell Road, which slipped from No. 9 to No. 10 on flat sales of just under $2.4 million. Owner Mary Beth Ringgold, who also owns Capers restaurant at 14502 Cantrell Road, is spending almost $1 million to renovate the bar area of the venerable Cajun's into virtually a second restaurant.

Dropping from the list were McDonald's franchises on University, West Markham Street and Rodney Parham and Wendy's franchises on University and Geyer Springs Road. (Only three fast-food locations — Sonic Drive-In on Chenal Parkway, Wendy's on South Broadway and Fazoli's — remain on the Little Rock list.)

Taking their places were the two IHOP locations, The Butcher Shop Steak House, U.S. Pizza Co. on Rodney Parham and the Purple Cow II on Chenal Parkway.

North Little Rock

The Red Lobster on McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock remains, head and shoulders, the highest-grossing restaurant in the two-city area with $4.85 million in sales last year.

Only one other restaurant in the state has ever claimed higher revenue: Copeland's Famous New Orleans Restaurant in Rogers, whose owners say they did $5.3 million in sales in 2003. Rogers, however, doesn't have a special restaurant tax, so that figure cannot be confirmed through public records.

Receipts by the 30 top-grossing North Little Rock restaurants increased 13.2 percent in 2003 for a total of $65.5 million — closing the gap with Little Rock's top 30 to less than 4 percent.

The new No. 2 on the North Little Rock list is Golden Corral, with a 7.9 percent increase to $3.6 million.

Last year's No. 2, the combined Riverfront Steakhouse and Benihana in the Riverfront Wyndham Hotel, fell to No. 4 with a 7.1 percent decline in sales.

Mexico Chiquito in the Lakewood Village makes its final appearance on the list at No. 25. It was closed in October after state health inspectors cited repeated cleanliness violations.

Dropping off the list were Pilot Travel Centers (Subway/Dairy Queen), Furr's Cafeteria, which closed in December 2002, and the Alltel Arena. Replacements were three McDonald's franchises — Broadway, Maumelle and Prothro.



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