Sam Russell was a brand growth manager for Kellogg’s seven years ago, newly transferred to Bentonville to work on his company’s Walmart account. Anna Russell was a self-described “stay-at-home wife” who soon found herself “super bored.”
She was working in the garden one day when she says she received a vision from God. And what God had in mind for the Russells was breakfast.
Anna Russell, 36, said that she came to realize that the region lacked home-cooked breakfast restaurants. So she began calling consultants and real estate brokers.
“I believe that God spoke to me and gave me a vision and infused me with courage that I should do this,” she said. “We took it upon ourselves from the time I had that vision in my garden in my backyard, and one year and two weeks from that time we opened the doors at our Moberly location.”
The result was a Southern restaurant concept that the Russells named The Buttered Biscuit. It opened April 3, 2017, on Moberly Lane in Bentonville and was an immediate hit.
The Russells trust in their Lord, but they also did the due diligence before opening. Anna Russell said they made a brand board, developed a menu, devised a budget and reached out to banks for financial support.
“That’s how it started, ‘Hey there is nothing like that in Bentonville. Why is that?’ ” she said. “What can I do about it? Let’s do it.
“Sam was 100% on board. We would stay up late on this idea. We had no idea it would come to be as successful as it has.”
“It was quite the opening day,” Anna Russell said.
The restaurant was a hit, with customers willing to wait more than an hour to be seated during the first week of operations.
The Buttered Biscuit was going to be Anna’s baby, but Sam Russell, 38, took that first day off from Kellogg’s to help her open the restaurant.
He never went back, submitting his resignation to Kellogg’s that first Friday after the restaurant’s grand opening. He is now CEO.
“At that point, we put all of our chips on the table; we needed this to work,” Anna Russell said. “That was all hands on deck. I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was. I needed him. “We joked that he came in on Monday and turned on the Open sign in a beautiful dry-cleaned corporate shirt and shoes, and he worked all day. He just came in to say hi and wish me good luck and never left.”
The success of the first restaurant led to a second in Bentonville in 2019 and a third in Springdale at the beginning of 2020. The Russells had plans to continue expansion after the Springdale opening but, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, dealing a devastating blow to the restaurant industry.
“In a 24-hour period we went from 120 employees to 6,” Anna Russell said. “We weren’t sure what to expect. We weren’t sure what to prepare for. Who had been through a pandemic? There was no manual to turn to to know how to navigate this.”
The Russells kept their three restaurants open during the pandemic, providing take-out meals prepared by a smaller staff. After eat-in dining returned, the Russells opened a Fayetteville location in 2021. Anna Russell believes that maintaining a presence during the pandemic kept the restaurant “relevant” and prompted customers to return.
Anna Russell may have started The Buttered Biscuit as a bored homemaker, but she is no business neophyte. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs and investors and has extensive experience in the restaurant and real estate industries.
“It felt familiar,” she said. “I knew the right steps to take, that I needed to take to get the ball rolling. If you can identify a need, it doesn’t guarantee the success of your business but it certainly helps the odds.”
Giving Employees a Stake
Anna Russell said they run a tight ship, using guest data to eliminate supply waste and improve efficiency. The Russells offer profit sharing with their managers, giving them a stake in the brand’s success.
“I really believe that if you genuinely care about the people who are in your charge, that is the chain reaction for how they lead the people under them,” Anna Russell said. “It’s a gift that they are willing to work with us.”
All four restaurants are open from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The menu includes biscuit sandwiches, various scrambled egg dishes, beignets, French toast and waffles. The Russells want to open another location sometime in the next year, either in Arkansas or Tulsa.
“We have a big plan, but I think we are taking those small steps to see how it goes and evaluate after each one,” Anna Russell said. “We are looking in Arkansas pretty heavily to go south and we are looking outside of Arkansas in the Tulsa area. Our hope would be to continue the expansion with conservative, stable growth.”