This year marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the first Purple Cow restaurant, in Little Rock, and April 2 marked the opening of the fourth Purple Cow, at The Village at Hendrix in Conway.
The 4,100-SF restaurant occupies the first floor of the 30,000-SF $7.5 million Market Square South building, completed about a month ago, at The Village. The building also houses the Conway office of Delta Trust & Bank and Conway Management Inc., a hotel management group.
In 2007, Little Rock businessman Philip Tappan bought the Purple Cow, the 1950s-themed diner founded in 1989, from two of its three original founders, Ed Moore and Paul Bash. (Denis Seyer was the third partner of the restaurant team behind Purple Cow and numerous other Little Rock-area restaurants in the 1980s and ‘90s. Seyer is now the chief consultant for RH Cuisine, which owns the 1620 Savoy in west Little Rock and Cache Restaurant in the River Market District.)
Tappan’s original partner in Purple Cow was Todd Gold, who’s now dean of Pulaski Technical College’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute. Gold eventually left the Purple Cow operation, and Tappan now operates the four stores with Ken Vaughn as an equity partner. Vaughn serves as COO while Tappan is CEO.
When he first bought the Purple Cow, Tappan said, he and Gold targeted Conway for expansion but things just didn’t work out. So in 2010 they added a Hot Springs location to the two in Little Rock.
But then last summer, Hendrix College, Delta Trust CEO French Hill and Tappan joined to develop the Market Square South building at The Village at Hendrix, a so-called New Urbanist neighborhood adjacent to the Hendrix campus. The building’s second and third floors house Hendrix students.
The ownership of the building is shared between Hendrix, which owns the upper two floors, and the investor group, which owns the ground floor that houses commercial space.
“Economically, it helped having a multitenant building versus doing a free-standing,” Tappan told Arkansas Business. “And there was the existing traffic there also, which is really nice.”
In fact, he said, “our shake sales are higher than at any of the other stores, and we can’t help but attribute that to growing college students.”
Jason Schultz is the general manager of the Conway Purple Cow, which currently employs about 90. The four locations together employ about 200.
Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock designed Market Square, and Nabholz Construction Services of Conway was the project’s contractor.
The Purple Cow at 11602 Chenal Parkway reported $1.8 million in sales in 2013, and the 8026 Cantrell location reported $895,125. And, Tappan said, “Our sales are growing this year. 2014 — I think the consumer is feeling a little more confident.”
Through March of this year, the latest figures available, the Chenal Purple Cow has done $468,318 in business; Cantrell, $215,355.
“There are probably a lot of restaurants reporting some improved numbers,” said Tappan, who was president and CEO of Quality Foods Inc. before retiring from that food distribution company in 2003. “We went through some tough years there.”
At one point, Purple Cow had locations in Texas, but those have all closed now.
As for how now, Purple Cow, Tappan said to expect another store or two in central Arkansas, and then he and Vaughn will turn their attention to northwest Arkansas. Northeastern Oklahoma could also enter the picture as well as the Texarkana area, Tappan said.