Of Bruno’s, the Minute Man and Hank’s Dog House

Once again, I’ll refer you to Raymond Merritt’s website at www.rrmerritt.com/mabelvale.

For those interested in famous restaurants from Little Rock’s past, the website contains some wonderful photos along with drawings from postcards.

Take Bruno’s Little Italy, one of the oldest Little Rock restaurants.

There’s a photo of the 3600 Roosevelt Road location. The sign proclaims that Bruno’s is the “original home of Italian foods” and notes that it’s “air conditioned.” The site earlier had been occupied by a restaurant known as Harry’s Fried Chicken. When Harry died, Bruno’s moved from Levy to this location on Roosevelt Road next to Hank’s Dog House.

I made a drive down Roosevelt Road this week in order to attend the Arkansas State Fair. It caused me to think about both Bruno’s and Hank’s.

In the restaurant history prepared by Gio Bruno on the Bruno’s website, it’s noted that it was 1903 when “brothers Gennaro, Nicolo and Vincenzo Bruno arrived in the United States from Naples, Italy. Sometime between 1903 and 1907, Vincenzo returned to Naples, but his brothers remained here and encouraged another of their brothers, Giovanni Bruno, to join them in America.”

Gennaro, Nicolo and Giovanni opened what the website claims was the first pizzeria in New York.

Gio writes: “My father was Vincent “Jimmy” Bruno, Giovanni’s son. Giovanni was considered an extraordinary chef and baker but was probably better known and revered as a gifted Neapolitan poet and lyricist. He was friends with the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso and wrote several published tribute poems in Caruso’s honor. Giovanni died in 1950.”

Jimmy Bruno began working at a young age in his father’s restaurant and bakery. During World War II, he was stationed at Camp Robinson, where he worked as a chef. After leaving the service, he opened a pizzeria that was part of a Chicago yacht club.

“It was a turbulent time in Chicago with organized crime trying to sell protection to or take over many legitimate businesses,” Gio writes. “This influenced Jimmy’s decision, after less than two years there, to return to Arkansas and start the Little Italy Cafe in Levy.”

The move across the river to Roosevelt Road came in May 1949. Jimmy added an extra dining room to what had been Harry’s and built a house on the back lot. The restaurant would remain in that location for the next 29 years. It was the first Italian restaurant listed in “Darnell’s Guide to Good Eating in the South.”

“As his uncles and father brought pizza to America, Dad brought it to the South, at first having to teach his customers how to pronounce the word,” Gio writes. “He was also the first man ever to show how a pizza is made on television. For years he delighted children and adults alike by tossing the pizza dough into the air and preparing his wares behind a glass window visible to all his patrons. Generations grew up being greeted by the hefty, personable restaurateur and watching him and later his sons twirl pizzas.”

In 1978, as the businesses along Roosevelt Road declined, Bruno’s moved to Old Forge Road in west Little Rock. Jimmy’s three sons — Jay, Gio and Vince — all helped with the restaurant along with stepson Wayne Gilchrist. Jimmy died in 1984 at age 65.

In May 1987, the famed Little Rock restaurant closed.

It didn’t remain closed for long, however. Bruno’s reopened in December 1988 on Bowman Road as Jay and Vince teamed with Little Rock businessman Scott Wallace. Almost 22 years later, the restaurant is still going strong, and Vince is still in the kitchen.

The 3614 Roosevelt Road location was occupied in the 1930s by Gordon Adkins Restaurant, whose sign advertised it as having the “South’s Finest Foods.”

According to a postcard from the ’30s that Raymond Merritt has on his website: “For 20 years the name Adkins in Little Rock has been synonymous with good food.” It noted that the restaurant had “glorified spring chicken and U.S. choice steer steaks” while doing catering for “parties, banquets, socials, marriages, receptions, luncheons, teas, bridge or any occasion.”

By the late 1930s, Gordon Adkins had moved his restaurant to 10th and Broadway. After World War II, the restaurant at 10th and Broadway became The Ritz Grill. Meanwhile, Hank’s Catering House took over the 3614 Roosevelt Road location after Gordon Adkins moved to Broadway. By the 1950s, the restaurant there was known as Hank’s Dog House.

I’ve written before on this blog of the fond memories I have of trips to Hank’s for dinner each August. My parents’ anniversary is Aug. 11. On a Saturday near that date each year, we would come to Little Rock for the high school all-star games. The high school all-star basketball game was played in the afternoon at Barton Coliseum. The high school all-star football game was played in the evening at War Memorial Stadium. Between the two games, we would have an early dinner at Hank’s. I was amazed that the restaurant had live lobsters in a glass tank. I could have watched those lobsters forever.

For a young boy from Arkadelphia, Hank’s was considered the finest restaurant in the state.

Raymond Merritt’s website also has a photo of the plaque in the building where I now work which proclaims that “on this site (407 Broadway) the first Minute Man restaurant was opened May 26, 1948. Wesley T. Hall, founder.”

As he expanded his chain of restaurants throughout the region, Wes Hall opened a Minute Man in Arkadelphia in the 1960s adjacent to Ouachita’s football stadium, A.U. Williams Field. There’s no way to estimate the number of hamburgers and “radar deep dish pies” (I think that would be described these days as something heated in a microwave oven) I had at the Minute Man as a child. There was a pool hall connected to the back of the restaurant (the Rack & Cue), and the parking lot was always filled as students from Henderson and Ouachita flocked to the place.

We lived just a couple of blocks away. One of our beagles would walk down there on a regular basis, be fed fries by the college students and sleep under the pool tables before coming home late each evening.

Does anyone out there still have a Minute Man menu?

What was your favorite burger?

Isn’t the last remaining Minute Man on Main Street in El Dorado?

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