The team at Cache Restaurant at 425 Clinton Ave. in downtown Little Rock encountered a nightmare situation in late July, forcing them to close the restaurant and undertake a complete renovation of the first floor.
Despite the disaster, good things are coming at the restaurant, including a new venue just next door, the Bayou at Cache, a “hidden” bar and dining room, not accessible from the street, that is a kind of homage to the great Arnaud’s restaurant in New Orleans.
But first, the Great Grease Trap Disaster: The restaurant’s hardwood floors were buckling, said Rush Harding, an investor in the restaurant and father of restaurant owner and Executive Chef Payne Harding. On a Saturday night, after the restaurant had closed for business, Cache workers started pulling up the floors, thinking water damage was the issue, only to find a layer of grease resulting from a broken grease trap. The grease had spread horizontally throughout below the entire first floor beneath the hardwood floors and the tile in the kitchen and only started pushing up when there was no room left for it to spread horizontally.
“Oh, my gosh,” was the reaction, Harding said.
Fortunately, the restaurant had insurance with The Hartford, brokered by the Hatcher Agency of Little Rock, he said. “The Hatcher Agency’s local people just worked with them, worked with us, and once The Hartford decided we were insured, they’ve been very accommodating and been very good to work with, but I’m thankful I had the Hatcher Agency to help us make sure that was done.”
The insurance allowed the restaurant to pay all 55 employees throughout the shutdown.
Clark Contractors of Little Rock, which built the Arcade Building, the home of Cache, is undertaking the restaurant’s renovation. “They tore everything out to the concrete base on the first floor,” Harding said. There’s no damage on the second floor, but the restaurant is using the opportunity to repaint and freshen up the space.
The reopening of Cache is scheduled for mid-October, he said.
Meanwhile, the space next door formerly occupied by the Freckled Frog, a gift shop that closed during the COVID pandemic, is being transformed into the Bayou at Cache. “One of my favorite restaurants is Arnaud’s in New Orleans,” Harding said. Arnaud’s has a private bar that is entered from inside the restaurant. “It’s kind of hidden a little bit,” he said. “It’s a small, neat bar that’s been there since Prohibition. Mr. Arnaud would entertain his guests and his family, where they could party and drink when it was not legal to do so. If I want to go old school in New Orleans, that’s my favorite place to go.”
The 1,000-SF Bayou at Cache will have a similar atmosphere, but the Hardings are still mulling over whether it will be open six days a week or only for private rentals.
The space, which is being designed by Garry Mertins of Little Rock, will include a private dining room with its own bathroom, an elevated DJ booth, video board and sophisticated lighting. The Hardings are still working out menu details.
“We want it to be considered kind of a special treat,” Harding said. He hopes the Bayou at Cache will be ready by the time the main restaurant reopens.
Asked about sales at Cache, which has been open since late 2013, in 2019, the year before the pandemic, Harding said, “net-net,” after taxes and tips, “we did about $3 million.” He noted that he and his wife, Linda, own the property that Cache occupies and Payne owns the restaurant itself.
“We had a record year in 2021,” he said. “Once you get to that level where you’ve covered your fixed expenses, money does cascade to the bottom line. And it’s a very fun business.”
At least, when the grease trap works.