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Faring well

Tomas Bohm's new deli is on its way.

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MEAT MAN: Antonio Coutino, general manager at District Fare, with a house-cured speciality.
  • MEAT MAN: Antonio Coutino, general manager at District Fare, with a house-cured speciality.

Tomas Bohm talks about his restaurants — The Pantry (b. April 2009), The Pantry Crest (b. September 2014) and District Fare (b. June 2017) — like they're children. He loves them. They take all of his time. And he doesn't want any more. "I'm done. I'm stretched," he said of his mini-empire of eateries.

While the nearly 1-year-old District Fare might seem like lagniappe for a successful restaurateur — a small Hillcrest deli and sandwich shop where Bohm can show off the likes of The Pantry's beloved homemade bratwurst and pate — he says it's been the most challenging of his three concepts. For one, there are always logistical challenges running a combination restaurant, deli and grocery store, even on a small scale. But Bohm dramatically complicated things with his commitment to doing just about everything at District Fare in-house.

To that end, he spent months last year perfecting the brine for District Fare's pastrami, a thick-cut tender, juicy meat masterpiece topped with cornichons and homemade mustard on rye. The cured meats — capicola, Spanish-style lomo, beet-red bresola, spalla, the best-in-town slabs of bacon — all get aged in-house. They're fittingly displayed in a glass case with the same sort of dramatic lighting you'd find in a museum. The bratwurst, Hungarian sausage and chicken liver pate get made in the deli. Ditto for the mayonnaise and mustard that go on District Fare's 10 sandwiches.

Those touches have been well received. The readers of the Arkansas Times voted District Fare the best deli/gourmet-to-go spot, the best place to get a sandwich and, despite its only offering a few cuts of vacuum-sealed steak, sausages and bacon, the best butcher shop in Central Arkansas.

But Bohm acknowledges growing pains. "We're still learning and moving forward to make sure we keep bettering the product, whether it's the type of bread or the type of sandwich." District Fare recently added salad options and introduced a new sandwich, the G.O.H.M. —Gruyere, green olives, ham and mortadella on pressed French bread.

Bohm says his initial prices scared customers. He initially charged $1 for chips and $1 for bottled water. Early customers balked at spending $12 plus tax on a $9.95 sandwich, chips and water. Now, chips come with the sandwich ("I completely eat the cost of the chips," Bohm said) and water costs a quarter.

HOPING FOR A LIVELY AFTER-WORK CROWD: District Fare owner Tomas Bohm wants to see more customers stopping in for wine and beer.
  • HOPING FOR A LIVELY AFTER-WORK CROWD: District Fare owner Tomas Bohm wants to see more customers stopping in for wine and beer.

"Little Rock is stuck in this strange time warp," he said. "People have this expectation they should pay $8 for a hamburger or a sandwich. I'm trying to convince people that it's OK to pay $2 more." Making everything in-house and buying bread for sandwiches from Boulevard costs more than premade offerings you might find elsewhere, Bohm said. "I don't think I could do this store and experiment with it if I didn't have the other two restaurants."

One experiment that has caught on in recent months: grab-and-go options. On Monday, District Fare has The Pantry's deliciously decadent and massive hunks of lasagna. Tuesday is stroganoff. Rotisserie chickens with veggies are on offer Wednesdays and Friday. Salmon and asparagus make regular appearances. Customers frequently call in early to reserve dinners.

An initial vision that hasn't materialized: Customers don't come by after work to hangout with a glass of wine, beer and a charcuterie tray. District Fare closes at 7 p.m., but Bohm hopes that in time, folks will think of it as a place to grab an early dinner, or even to stop and grab another of his offerings that hasn't gained a big following — the meat cone, a paper cone piled with your choice of pastrami, mustard and breadsticks or all the cured meats, cornichons and breadsticks.

Just like his restaurants, District Fare is a "living thing" that's "constantly evolving," Bohm said. While he's always striving toward consistency, he said he knows "times are always changing. I just go with that."

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