The Austin Chronicle

Arkie's Resurrection

By Virginia B. Wood, September 20, 2012, 3:58pm, On the Range

When Arkie's Grill (4827 E. Cesar Chavez) closed quietly earlier this year with a "closed for remodeling " sign on the door, regulars sadly lamented the loss of the 65-year-old neighborhood mainstay. The property changed hands last week and the new owners will pay homage to the original name and diner roots with a new eatery set to open in 2013.

For most of its long lifespan, Arkie's was the domain of proprietor Faye "Arkie" Sawyer who knew his blue collar customers by name and made everyone feel at home when they stopped by regularly for breakfast and/or lunch. Arkie's was known for hearty breakfasts, daily Southern-style blue plate specials, affordable prices, and friendly service. Scotty Stroup and his son-in-law Steve Jones bought the restaurant from Sawyer in 1994, keeping the staff and the menu almost completely intact for many years. A lease agreement with another operator in the past couple of years had not worked out well, and as far as we know, Jones taken the restaurant back in the spring and then put the property on the market.

Chef Stephen Shallcross and his wife Lauren, owners of 2Dine4 Catering and the Swoop House, have purchased the iconic old diner. Restaurateur and designer Mickie Spencer (East Side Show Room, Hillside Farmacy) is their partner in the new business and will be responsible for the design of the new restaurant. Shallcross says the project's working title is "Sawyer & Co." and describes the new eatery as a "New Orleans-inspired diner serving classy Texas comfort food with a Louisiana flare." He and his staff are busy developing menu items, many of which will get trial runs at the ongoing Supper Friends dinner series in the Swoop House this fall. (If the excellent fried chicken we enjoyed at a recent Supper Friends dinner is any indication, they are on the right track.) Shallcross is also consulting with former Austin chef and fellow Louisiana native chef Happy Abdelbaki on some of the menu items, as well.

For her part, Mickie Spencer has been researching the mid-century modern period that was all the rage when Arkie's was new and plans to incorporate elements of that period into her overall design. She reports having spent time in Los Angeles this summer, looking at iconic diners from the Fifties for ideas and inspiration.

Now that the sale of the property has closed and the permit process can begin, Shallcross and Spencer are hopeful that their new baby will be ready to make it's debut in time for South by Southwest in March of 2013. While the new owners have every intention of paying homage to the original, regulars should understand the new restaurant will not be your father's Arkie's. So far, guys from the neighborhood don't seem too concerned. "Every time I've gone over there since we picked up the keys, someone stops by to ask when we're going to re-open," Shallcross reports. "One guy even suggested we should just sell coffee while we're remodeling because he and his friends were used to spending an hour a day in this building." The spirit of Arkie's lives!

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