Changes, Temporary Closing Coming to Ashley's at the Capital Hotel

by Lee Hogan  on Friday, Apr. 25, 2014 4:24 pm  

Changes are coming to the Capital Hotel's restaurant, Ashley's, which is run by Executive Chef Joël Antunes (far right). (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Change is coming to Ashley's at the Capital Hotel.

Hotel management says the popular Little Rock restaurant will be closing, temporarily, May 4 to allow for a redesign. The restaurant aims to reopen in July. 

Arkansas Business first reported in January that a redesign was coming this year.

Included among the changes: a new name, which management hasn't chosen yet. In addition, the restaurant will undergo a renovation that includes replacing carpeted floors with hardwood and mirrors on the wall with artwork. The hotel will also remove the drapes from the windows to make way for more natural light.

Chuck Magill, the hotel's marketing director, told Arkansas Business on Friday that patrons have felt uncomfortable entering the restaurant without a jacket, and added once inside, patrons felt their voices should be at a lower octave. Both are feelings the restaurant is attempting to change.

"I think the big thing [with the changes] is it will be more relaxed, more convivial and you will feel more comfortable speaking at a normal volume," he said.

Most of the proposed changes are aimed at growing the restaurant's customer base, and attempting to draw in the out-and-about crowd, in addition to those looking for a classy restaurant to celebrate an special occasion. 

It's the same vision Executive Chef Joël Antunes expressed to Arkansas Business in January, saying he wanted to change the restaurant's perception as only a "special occasion restaurant" to one that Arkansans can see themselves visiting more than once a year.

Magill called Antunes the driving force behind the new changes.

The restaurant also plans to add a bar that will serve as an entry-way into the dining area. The bar is planned to begin in the foyer, continue along the side and open up into the hotel lobby with around 10 seats. 

"It's something we've always wanted to do," Magill said.

During the day, the bar is expected to have pastries and ice cream, among other items. During the evening hours, it's hoped to be a comfortable place for people, who wish to avoid the other components of a normal bar, to meet, and possibly end up having dinner.

An increased coffee and pastry presence is also something customers can expect at the revamped restaurant.

Magill said the restaurant's bar will not compete with the Capital Bar and Grill, also located at Capital Hotel.

"I think they will have two distinct product offerings," he said. "There won't be any ambiguity."

The restaurant's kitchen is also set to get a redesign to make it more apt to serve 60 diners at lunch and around 100 during the evenings and weekends. Something that is difficult to accomplish with its current setup, Magill said.

Magill said the main focus of the redesign is increasing the kitchen's productivity while maintaining its uniqueness.

With the series of changes, the classic, elegant restaurant is hoping to keep it's polished style while providing a more relaxed, fun atmosphere. 

"People want restaurants that are more relaxed," Magill said. "It's hard, when you say something is less formal, the first word that people think of is casual. It will still be a chic, lovely restaurant."

Through the years, the hotel has seen much of its business from diners celebrating special events or anniversaries. Moving forward, Magill said the restaurant will still be the "best special event restaurant in the city," but it wants to be more than than.

"There just are not enough special events," Magill said.

He added that the hotel wants the restaurant to give diners "more excuses to go there on a regular basis."

Regardless of the changes, Magill said the quality of the food, which has seen quite the expansion under its new head chef, will not be diminishing under Antunes, whom Magill refers to as "one of the best chefs in the world."

"It's going to be a lot of fun to watch unfold," Magill said. 

Ashley's will close and begin renovations May 4 after a final brunch.

 

 

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