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Top Online Stories of 2023: Eatery News, a Lyon College Setback And 27 Marijuana Laws Tossed Out

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Readers were hungry for restaurant news on the Arkansas Business website this year.

The most-viewed story of 2023 was a staff report on the opening date of George’s, a new Italian restaurant in Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood. George’s opened Aug. 19 at the former site of Cafe Prego and has been packed ever since.

As of press time, George’s website listed Jan. 7 as the next available date to make a reservation. The restaurant is a project of John Stephens, senior vice president at Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, and his wife, Mary Olive Stephens.

The year’s second most-read story came from Senior Editor Mark Friedman, who in November reported that a deal to sell Heifer International’s campus in Little Rock to an affiliate of Lyon College had fallen through. The move could delay the opening of the private liberal arts college’s planned dental and veterinary schools.

In a follow-up story, Lyon College told Arkansas Business that the deal isn’t dead, but it’s looking at other locations in the city just in case.

The third most-read story of 2023 was Assistant Editor Kyle Massey’s report in August on a judge’s ruling that placed the state’s cannabis industry in limbo. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch struck down 27 laws governing the industry’s operations and products and voided legislation letting employers keep medical cannabis patients out of safety-sensitive positions.

Industry executives continued to operate as usual, waiting to see how a promised state appeal plays out. If the appeal fails, the industry expects new business opportunities.

At No. 4 was a September story on the uncertain future some poultry farmers faced after Tyson Foods decided not to renew their contracts. Assistant Editor Marty Cook reported that dozens of farmers in northwest Arkansas and Missouri were scrambling to find new integrators, as many lacked the resources to pursue other options, such as switching to a free-range house or a turkey house.

Tyson cut ties with the farmers as it consolidates its struggling chicken segment.

Coming in at No. 5 was an item from our Whispers column in November about Hunter Yurachek, the athletic director at the University of Arkansas, selling his Fayetteville home for $1.8 million. The buyers were Aaron and Erin Crawley.

Don’t worry, Razorback fans. Yurachek is sticking around. He and his wife purchased a new home in Fayetteville for $1.35 million.

A story in August on Todd Yakoubian’s exit from KATV-TV, Channel 7, in Little Rock was the sixth most-read story of the year. Yakoubian, who had been with KATV as a meteorologist for 18 years, joins a number of recent on-air departures at the station, following sports reporter Kyle Deckelbaum and anchors Chris Kane and Alyson Courtney.

Yakoubian’s next stop? KARK-TV in Little Rock has hinted that he’s joining the station. 

At No. 7 was Senior Editor George Waldon’s report in July on three Arkansas banks surpassing $1 billion in assets. Fayetteville’s Signature Bank of Arkansas and Jacksonville’s First Arkansas Bank & Trust hit the milestone in the first quarter, bringing a new level of regulatory requirements and scrutiny.

At the time, Anstaff Bank of Green Forest predicted it would hit $1 billion during the fourth quarter. It reached the milestone earlier than expected, in the third quarter, according to filings with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Another staff-reported restaurant story came in at No. 8. Fast-casual restaurant chain Noodles & Co. of Broomfield, Colorado, revealed in August that it’s expanding to Arkansas through a franchise agreement with Paven Sandhu of Rogers and her husband and business partner, Navi Sandhu.

It’s not the first franchise concept the Sandhus have brought to northwest Arkansas. In 2022, they opened the state’s first Culver’s location in the region.

Our Whispers column delivered the ninth most-read story of 2023: J.B. Hunt Transport Services suing TTEC Holdings Inc. of Denver over cybersecurity. An “elementary” mistake allegedly caused a security vulnerability in software installed for J.B. Hunt’s online driver recruiting platform.

The vulnerability was corrected before any information was accessed by any third party, but J.B. Hunt is still seeking undisclosed damages.

Rounding out the list at No. 10 was an update on Standard Lithium’s plans for Arkansas’ first commercial lithium production facility. Massey reported in September that the Canadian company was moving forward with the $365 million project in El Dorado after seeing positive results from a definitive feasibility study. n


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