Hardings' Cache Restaurant a Clarion Call for Good Times in River Market

The weekend snow and ice have done their best to thwart the first party hosted at Cache, the new restaurant in the Arcade Building in Little Rock’s River Market District.

But co-owners Rush Harding and his son Payne are determined to be ready, so a score of workers swirl throughout the space, drying glasses at the bar, chopping carrots in the kitchen, adding finishing touches and holiday bling, filling clear glass bowls and cylinders with gold and silver ornaments.

Rush Harding, CEO of the Little Rock investment firm Crews & Associates, talks fast and thinks fast and expects others to keep up. Mostly, they do.

The name of the restaurant, pronounced like folding money, seeks to convey a couple of concepts, Harding says. “I wanted something that reflected our family and our roots as a family, but then something that also had a meaning of good times and fun and enjoying being with family and friends.”

“I grew up in the Delta of east Arkansas, and the Cache River is an iconic river in the Delta,” says Harding, the 59-year-old son of educators. Clarendon, where he was raised, lies near where the Cache empties into the White River.

So “Cache” nods toward family origins, but the word, Harding says, also means “a treasure trove. It’s where you store important things. And some of the things that are most important to me and my family are good times and good food and good experiences, good camaraderie with friends.”

And anyway, Harding says, he’s not even the person who named the restaurant.

“I was actually in a meeting with Jimmy Moses, Skip Rutherford and Rett Tucker, Bobby Roberts,” Harding said, listing the godfathers (not in the organized-crime sense) of downtown Little Rock development.

And the godfathers are asking Harding, “’What are you going to name the restaurant?’ And we bounced several names off and I was giving them my thoughts. And Skip Rutherford” — and here Harding does a Skip Rutherford impression, which is the same Harding drawl but with a whiskey-tinged rasp to it, like Rush with a sore throat — ‘I like Cache. Name it Cache.’ So Skip Rutherford named the restaurant, not me.”

But the enthusiasm is all Harding’s, as he gestures toward the kitchen or the chef’s private dining room or the glass walls on the second floor that in good weather can vanish, opening the restaurant to river views.

It’s an expensive space, whose finish-out cost “quite a bit more” than the $2 million that the shell cost, Harding says. The building permit for the finish-out work topped $3.1 million.

Cache is elegant, with flat surfaces of glass and wood and stainless steel in taupe and gray and chocolate brown. Chairs upholstered in a burgundy-rust fabric add color to the sleek space.

A bank of floor-to-ceiling windows faces Clinton Avenue on the first floor, and the second holds a bar and dance floor.

The kitchen is open to the views of diners, who can pull a stool up to the marble bar separating kitchen from dining room for close-up study. And a large round table anchors the chef’s dining room, a private room right off the kitchen where the chef can mingle with favored guests.

Payne Harding, 27, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., is a chef and owner of Cache, along with his father. Joining Payne in leading the restaurant is Matthew Cooper, executive chef and general manager and formerly executive chef at Lulav in Little Rock.

Asked to describe the menu, Cooper calls it “classic European. By classic European, we mean things that have classic flavor profiles.”

Take, for contrast, a big bowl of what Cooper calls “Americanized pasta.”

“You get a big bowl of pasta, you get sauce all over it, and you get meatballs,” he says.

But at Cache, a pasta dish like the restaurant’s Calabrian pasta and crab has a different aesthetic. “All it is is fresh oregano, a nice tomato sauce, fresh crab and Calabrian chilies to give it a little bit of spice,” Cooper says. “The pasta shines, not the sauce.”

On the dinner menu, appetizers rise in price from $11 for fritto misto calamari to the “please ask your server” range for oysters or “today’s caviar and accompaniments.” Entrees are priced at $21 for an herb-roasted half-chicken to $74 for the hearth-fired cowboy rib-eye.

Cache also offers lunch, with an heirloom beet salad at $8 to a blackened salmon burger at $11 to a smoked sausage, red pepper and camembert pizza at $12.

Cooper promises many gluten-free options. And Jeff Yant, the sommelier at 1620 Savoy, the west Little Rock restaurant also co-owned by Payne Harding, will bring his wine guidance to Cache.

When the restaurant opens for lunch and dinner, scheduled for Jan. 7, it will operate from 11 a.m. to a last seating at 9:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Cache seats 113 on the first floor, 71 upstairs and 87 outside when weather permits. The restaurant will employ about 60.

Construction on the $14 million, 59,000-SF Arcade Building, at the corner of Clinton and River Market avenues, began in October 2012. The mixed-use project is a joint venture between the Central Arkansas Library System and Moses Tucker Real Estate.

Clark Contractors was the contractor for the Arcade Building. The Johnson Studio of Atlanta, an architecture firm devoted to restaurant design, designed Cache, and Pioneer Distributing Co. of North Little Rock outfitted the kitchen.

Cache is hosting a number of Christmas parties as well as a New Year’s Eve fete for 400, at $75 per person. Details can be found at CacheLittleRock.com.

On-the-Job Training

Rush Harding says Cooper was responsible for devising the business plan for Cache but that the experience of owning and operating 1620 Savoy has proved invaluable to son Payne. Payne Harding bought that restaurant June 30, 2012, with Rick Qualls and Tim Morton, as well as with Arkansan John Masching, also a Culinary Institute of America graduate and sous chef at Cache.

“It was an existing business with an established clientele, established cash flow,” Rush Harding says. And even though his son is a great cook, Harding says, he previously had lacked business experience.

In 2012, according to tax records of the Little Rock Advertising & Promotions Commission, 1620 Savoy had gross receipts of $435,384, but it was closed all July and August and part of September of that year for renovations. Through October of this year, the restaurant has had gross foods receipts of $824,334, not including alcohol.

“I think one of the things that has really opened Payne’s eyes: Being able to cook is only a minuscule part of the total dynamic to making a restaurant go,” Harding says. “You can be the greatest cook in the world but if you can’t handle the business side of it, you’re doomed.”

Payne Harding has the culinary chops, as does Cooper. And Payne Harding has also had the business experience of 1620 Savoy, so if Cache is a risk — and any new business is — it’s a calculated one.

Asked why he’s taken on the enterprise, Rush Harding says, “I just like to support my kids in whatever they do.”