Details — a lot of details, like the name and menu — are still being worked out, but Victoria Ramirez last week shared some of what she does know about the new restaurant at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock. The museum is set to reopen on April 22 after an almost four-year redesign.
Ramirez, executive director of the museum, formerly the Arkansas Arts Center, said the restaurant, a sit-down venue, will:
► Be ready for service when the museum opens.
► Have indoor seating comprising 2,195 SF and an 1,112-SF outdoor dining area.
► Be on the south side of the museum and overlook the museum grounds and MacArthur Park.
► Have a 525-SF private dining room and offer catering services.
► Serve lunch every day the museum is open, as well as brunch and dinner on some evenings.
► Have plenty of free parking.
► Serve alcohol.
► Seek to offer local foods and engage local vendors.
► Seek to be a comfortable space at an accessible price point, not just a “special occasion” restaurant.
The restaurant at what was once the Arkansas Arts Center evolved considerably over the last 30 or so years, from a fluorescent-lit interior space to a natural light-filled venue overlooking the north side of the museum. Its last incarnation was as Watercolor in the Park, operated by the Keet family’s JTJ Restaurants of Little Rock. Before that it was Canvas and before that Best Impressions.
Back in the day — 30 years ago — restaurant service was provided by kindly Arts Center volunteers and the menu had a tearoom vibe. The restaurant gradually moved in a more professional direction, and that appears to be the direction of the new restaurant, though comfort is important.
“We have a fabulous team that is starting to work on the details, such as menu, hiring a chef,” Ramirez said. “The team that oversees the restaurant will also oversee our catering for our facility rental program, so we’ll have good food at the restaurant and good food at catered events.”
External consultants and internal museum teams are working to develop the restaurant’s menu, as well as its decor and ambiance, Ramirez said.
“We’re really excited,” she said. “We just hung the light fixtures and it’s going to be a fabulous place to have lunch or have dinner.”
The specific hours of the restaurant haven’t yet been determined.
As for the direction the menu will take, that’s also in development. “We certainly want to celebrate local,” she said. “We want to really engage local vendors and purveyors, and we are starting to look into that right now.
“And we also want a restaurant that is going to be a place that people want to go,” Ramirez said. “This will not be what we’re calling a ‘special occasion’ kind of place, although we’d certainly love people to celebrate special occasions at the restaurant. But we want people to want to come on a regular basis and be comfortable and for it to be at an accessible price point too.”
In addition to the restaurant, the museum will provide areas in which visitors can enjoy a coffee or other beverage, as well as concessions for the theater.
“One of the beneficial designs of the building is that this building and just forward-thinking museums in general are social places, and we’ve really taken that into consideration,” she said. “Food and drink are such an important part of socializing.”