There are a certain group of people who keep schedules that are far different from the norm — nurses, law enforcement officers, television producers, college students number among them. Odd hours makes one no less hungry, but where can one go when the urge to eat breakfast strikes at 11 p.m. or 2 a.m.?
Central Arkansas residents are, for the most part, confined to a small number of national chains such as IHOP, Denny’s and Waffle House. But in Fort Smith, the choices are different and include Lucy’s, Bob & Ellie’s and the king of all Arkansas late night food — Benson’s Grill. Why is that? How can a smaller economy support more locally owned efforts?
Jennifer Boulden is the Communication and Event Services Manager for the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau. She believes there are multiple reasons.
Convention and Visitors Bureau executive Claude Legris thinks it’s ingrained in the population. “Fort Smith, though a sophisticated community (Mitsubishi, regional health care, 188th Fighter Wing, a growing arts community, outstanding educational institutions), still has a ‘mom and pop’ kind of attitude. Lots of the folks here are multi generational, and they still take pride in personal relationships they have had their entire lives. They show a preference for these types of establishments because that’s how they were ‘brung up.’ Plus they know that biscuits and gravy are good 24 hours a day!”
Boulden also notes it’s not just the egg-
It's not just the 24 hour diners that are thriving. Fort Smith has a host of other great breakfast eateries, from the nostalgic powerhouse Calico County to made-from-scratch breakfasts at Lewis Family Restaurant. The city has its own locally-owned four store Sweet Bay Coffee Company, diner breakfasts at White Spot and Wake-Up Café and quiche and muffins at Gourmet Gallery. Fort Smithians seem to adore their morning meal. Boulden says it’s not just the blue-collar crowd. “On weekday mornings, you’ll get a lot of the old-timers meeting at their favorite breakfast spot to go over the newspaper together, and Fort Smith’s tourists and business travelers looking for something tasty and different.”
At Benson’s, that meal is always substantial. Tate says breakfast interest is pretty steady. “In a 24 hour period, approximately 40% of all of our plates served are from the breakfast menu. It is a bit seasonal, in that when it is cold we see that percentage skew towards breakfast by 3-5%, especially in the overnight timeframes.
Tate also notes that people who are seeking out breakfast at Benson’s aren’t really looking for the healthy option. “I will tell you that in the almost 14 years that I have owned Benson's, we have almost quadrupled the sales at the restaurant by just focusing on trying to remain a ‘joint’ and serving comfort food and a more than reasonable price. We don't try to be something that we are not and don't chase fads. When we were at the height of the Atkins Diet craze, we put up a sign that said, ‘Don't worry about the calories... don't worry about the carbs... they're ALL in there.!’ "