Count Porkula Brings Barbecue to Former Smokehouse


You may have heard that JTJ Restaurants, the company helmed by Little Rock’s Keet family, and Count Porkula BBQ have teamed up to open a full-service restaurant at 201 Keightley Drive in Little Rock, the former Ozark Country Restaurant and the old Ozark Mountain Smokehouse location.

Well, your Whispers staff has a few more details.

The 2,500-SF restaurant with attached smokehouse is envisioned as a prototype for a potential chain of Count Porkula restaurants.

Kelly Lovell and Walt Todd are the owners of Count Porkula, which consists of a restaurant in the Rail Yard in east Little Rock, a food truck and the Count Porkula brand. They’re teaming with JTJ Restaurants (operator of Cypress Social and a number of Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe and Waldo’s Chicken & Beer restaurants) and Fresh Hospitality, the restaurant group based in Nashville, Tennessee, that is behind the Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe and Waldo’s concepts, along with a number of other restaurant brands.

“We are really excited about our relationship with these guys,” Jim Keet, patriarch of the Keet crew, said of Lovell and Todd. “We think they have by far the best barbecue in Arkansas.”

The new restaurant is to be called Count Porkula BBQ at the Crossroads. “We named it the ‘Crossroads’ because we’re really excited about the history of that location, of it being the Ozark Smokehouse at one time,” Lovell said. “We’ve called it the Crossroads because we are very excited about bringing different aspects of Little Rock together, east meets west.

“The design is our first prototype that we’re hoping we can replicate in the near future.”

The restaurant will seat about 95 inside and will also feature outdoor seating on a patio. “It’s a really cool design, very attractive, speaks barbecue,” Lovell said. “Very simple, but I think it’s going to be a very entertaining place to bring your family, friends and everybody that loves really good barbecue.”

The restaurateurs are hoping to have the restaurant open by the spring of 2022, Todd said. Lewis Architects Engineers of Little Rock is the company designing the prototype. Keet O’Gary Construction, also of Little Rock, will be building the restaurant.

Tommy Keet has been the lead on working with Lovell and Todd in developing the restaurant, and his brother, Jake, has been leading technology and systems involved in growing the brand.

By the time the restaurant has been built, the investment will be about $2 million, Jim Keet said. “These guys are worth it.”

Michael Bodnar, chairman of Fresh Hospitality, was introduced to Count Porkula in the summer of 2020 by Tommy and Jake Keet, Todd said. (Jim Keet noted that he and Bodnar go back together 42 years and have partnered in four ventures.)

“They ate and wanted to discuss the future,” Todd said.

“I think Walt’s being a little modest,” Lovell interjected. “Michael came in and had one of our ribs and thought it was one of the best ribs he’d ever eaten. I think at that point in time, they said, ‘OK, these guys may be for real.’”