Remodeling work has begun at the historic Packet House on Cantrell Road for the Packet House Grill, building owner Betty Richards said Monday, and work is scheduled to be complete by late May or early June.
The bottom floor of the home, which was built after the Civil War and in later incarnations served as apartments, a restaurant and a private business, will be used as the dining area. The second floor will be a private party area available for such things as weddings, Richards, CEO of Rich Logistics trucking firm, said.
Chef and manager will be Wesley Ellis, inventor of Wesley’s Mojo Barbecue Sauce. We've got a call into him; will update when we hear back.
A little history on the builder of the house, Sen. Alexander McDonald, from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program:
Alexander McDonald was a decidedly undistinguished one-term senator from Arkansas whom the Arkansas Gazette described as “utterly unqualified for the high position of United States Senate.”
A former member of McDonald, Fuller and Sells, Indian contractors, the former senator, a Pennsylvania native, had settled in Arkansas in 1863, became president of the Merchant’s National Bank of Little Rock (later the First National Bank) and “was considered the richest man in the state.”
He built the McDonald-Wait-Newton House, now known as the Packet House, on Cantrell Road, in 1870-71 and had sold it by the mid-1870s. He died in 1903 in Long Beach, New Jersey.
The Packet House name refers to the pacquet boats that once moved up and down the Arkansas River.
UPDATE: I just talked to chef Ellis. A minor correction: He says work will begin Monday. He plans to serve a menu of Southern fusion, with different spins on shrimp and grits and fried chicken and chicken and dumplings, etc. and he'll use local food suppliers. He praised the Root Cafe for its emphasis on buying local, saying "It's amazing how Little Rock and North Little Rock really can jump on board with local products."
The restaurant will seat 100, and will include a patio out back. He looks forward to the day when the city extends the River Trail along his property, a day that won't be soon, but is nice to contemplate.
Ellis' background includes culinary school in Baton Rouge, a stint as chef at Trio's downtown, and as a personal chef. He's catered for family friend Betty Richards' business, Rich Logistics, for eight years.