“Man this is just —,” Jake Keet stopped mid-sentence as he saw the tornado damage to Breckenridge Village.
Keet of JTJ Restaurants and his family recently acquired the retail center on North Rodney Parham Road off Interstate 430, and had been working to bring it back to life with new eateries and a cosmetic uplift. But on Friday afternoon, everything changed.
"We basically... Oh my God," he said.
Dozens in the storm's path were injured. No deaths had been reported Friday evening.
Arkansas Business encountered Keet, whose family owns Petit & Keet, as he was surveying the destruction for the first time. JTJ also owns Cypress Social and Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe
Old, large trees were completely uprooted. Broken glass was all over. Water poured from a burst pipe on the second floor where a wall was completely gone. An employee drove around the parking lot, asking if everyone was OK.
Had Keet and others been in the offices at Breckenridge Village, severe injuries, if not worse, appeared likely.
“It is bedlam out here,” Keet said. “It is something… you would not believe it.”
Breckenridge Village is home to several restaurants, including Mt. Fuji and Eat My Catfish, as well as a piano store. Across the street, the Colony West Shopping Center, where a Kroger is located, was also severely damaged by the tornado Friday afternoon. Cars in parking lots had windows blown out. Large pieces of metal were strewn about. Telephone polls had snapped in half.
Neighborhoods behind the retail spaces on Rodney Parham were beyond recognition. A half an hour after the direct hit, residents were emerging from houses in shock, some carrying out family pets.
At Breckenridge Village, JTJ Restaurants plans to open a new venue for their Waldo’s Chicken business and the first location in Little Rock for Deluca’s Pizza of Hot Springs. They own about a 15% share of the shopping center.
“It is going to be a big cleanup,” Keet said. “I am thankful we weren’t here.”
Keet said he and his wife took shelter in Pinnacle View Middle School, where they had just picked up their children, before the tornado hit.
“This is absolutely insane,” Keet said. “We are going to rebuild. The big thing we are going to have to evaluate is how structurally sound the building is. That is all we can really do. We will take bites of the elephant. One bite at a time.”