Central Avenue, Downtown Draw New Dining in Spa City

As is true in so many other Arkansas markets, Red Lobster was Hot Springs' highest-grossing restaurant in 2005, according to gross receipts reported to the Hot Springs Advertising & Promotion Commission.

The seafood restaurant brought in $3.2 million, not including alcohol sales. Other regional and national chains round out most of the city's top 10.

The two exceptions are obvious beneficiaries of the Spa City's healthy tourism industry.

Southwestern Catering, which was No. 4 in gross receipts last year, provides food for Oaklawn Jockey Club. Last year the racetrack recorded its fourth year in a row of increased attendance and had a record $280 million in wagers.

Likewise, Southwestern Catering's business grew, improving its receipts by 4.5 percent from the previous year. In 2005 the catering business reported $2.5 million in gross receipts.

Southwestern is a subsidiary of Oaklawn.

The other non-chain eatery on the list is the Arlington Restaurant, which actually includes three restaurants at one of the state's largest and highest-grossing hotels, the 484-room Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

The hotel's three eateries, the Fountain Room Grill, the Venetian Dining Room and The Lobby Café, totaled $2.2 million in gross receipts last year, a 5.17 percent increase over 2004.

As a whole, the city posted a fine year of restaurant sales, more than $105 million in gross receipts, which was a 5.15 percent improvement from the previous year.

Order Up

Commercial development abounds in Hot Springs, and restaurants are part of that growth. Central Avenue, specifically the stretch between Oaklawn and Hot Springs Mall, remains the most popular area for new restaurants locating in the city.

That includes the recently opened Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, a national chain with locations in 36 states, two in northwest Arkansas.

Also, early this year Bennigan's Grill & Tavern found a home on Central Avenue, the chain's third location in the state.

An even larger national chain, Olive Garden, will locate on the Spa City thoroughfare sometime this fall and likely find a spot near the top of the list of Hot Springs' highest-grossing restaurants as early as 2007.

Beyond Central Avenue, the city's well-visited downtown area is home to several new restaurants, such as The Barking Frog, which opened in August just across the street from the Majestic Hotel and serves a blend of Southwestern and Mexican fare. In November, burger joint Bubbalu's Bodacious Burgers opened across from the Hot Springs National Park visitor center.

Another major retail site could soon attract many other new restaurants. A large shopping center on the site of the Garland County Fairgrounds on Higdon Ferry Road could draw several eateries if only it could withstand legal battles.

Earlier this year the fairgrounds board sold the 37-acre fairgrounds property to SDI Realty of Houston for $9.1 million. SDI has not yet indicated what it wants to do with the property, but local developers speculate it could be the home of a more than 200,000-SF shopping center.

• Click here for a look at Hot Springs' highest-grossing restaurants.