Waltons Invest In Hospitality Group RopeSwing in Northwest Arkansas

Waltons Invest In Hospitality Group RopeSwing in Northwest Arkansas
Matt Cooper

Members of the Walton family are among investors in one of two hospitality companies launched recently in Bentonville, businesses whose debuts underscore the surge of the hospitality sector in northwest Arkansas.

Tom Walton, son of Jim Walton, who is chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank Group Inc. and a board member of Wal-Mart Inc., is among several Waltons who are members of the investment group behind RopeSwing of Bentonville. That’s according to Rob Apple, RopeSwing’s director of operations. Apple, a native of Little Rock who grew up in northwest Arkansas, said Tom Walton is managing principal of the investment group.

RopeSwing last month announced plans for two new projects in downtown Bentonville: The Belfry, a restaurant and bar to be housed in a renovated church on the square, and the Pressroom, a restaurant that will be moved from its current location on the square to the new Midtown Center just across the way. The Pressroom was started by Apple and his wife, Bea.

On its website, RopeSwing calls itself a “boutique hospitality company” whose team “is focused on redeveloping downtowns with iconic restaurants, entertainment venues, art houses, and private clubs.” The company provides management, design consulting and event production.

The second hospitality company to announce its presence recently in northwest Arkansas is Township Provisions of Bentonville, a restaurant group founded by Luke Wetzel, also originally from Little Rock, Mollie Mullis and Cash East.

Township Provisions’ first venture is the restaurant Oven & Tap at 215 S. Main St., just off Bentonville’s downtown square. “The concept is this idea of simple local foods,” Wetzel said. He and his partners hope to open Oven & Tap the weekend of April 17-19.

Oven & Tap will feature a custom-built wood-fired oven and a custom-built tap wall serving beer, wine and cocktails, not to mention coffee from Onyx Coffee Lab of Springdale and kombucha, a fermented tea, Wetzel said.

“I chose to launch this restaurant group because I have serious ambitions and way too many ideas just to stop at Oven & Tap,” he said. “We have a goal to open a handful of concepts, all celebrating the region and all will be focused on this Ozark region.”

Wetzel said Township Provisions could be involved with “any entertainment venue” but always with a restaurant focus.

Wetzel is another alumnus of Boulevard Bread Co. who spent time at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, after hearing Scott McGehee’s tales of the famed restaurant founded by Alice Waters in 1971. Waters helped pioneer the concept of focusing on the freshest local food available served in season.

Wetzel said he and Mullis helped open The Hive restaurant at the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville, Wetzel serving as executive sous chef.

At Oven & Tap, he’ll be chef, Mullis the sous chef and East will head the restaurant’s beverage program.

East-Harding Construction and Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, both of Little Rock, are finishing out Oven & Tap’s space.

Back at RopeSwing, Apple said that “boutique hospitality company” means it’s smaller and will be focusing on “unique experiences.”

RopeSwing has no immediate goal for the number of restaurants and other projects it’s seeking to launch. “As a group we’re focusing on downtowns up here in the Ozarks,” he said. “And as these opportunities arise, we’ll go through the standard planning process and decide where we want to place our bets.”

“Entertainment’s a great opportunity, and we’re still kind of waiting to see when and where the opportunity can happen,” Apple said.

Matt Cooper, late of Cache in Little Rock, will be head chef at The Belfry, and Mike Robertshaw, a well-known Seattle chef, will be taking over at the Pressroom. Also coming to the Pressrom is Carrie Spanton, considered an up-and-comer on New Orleans’ bar scene. Spanton will be overseeing the “cocktail program” at the Pressroom, Apple said.

Wetzel sees vast opportunity in northwest Arkansas, a chance to shape the area’s cuisine and its restaurant industry.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to get in this market,” he said. “It will be competitive, but I think it’s going to be very constructive competition, where everyone is going to feed off each other, and we’re actually going to build a community of talent and of restaurants that can make this place a destination.”