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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29 Responses to “Of Bruno’s, the Minute Man and Hank’s Dog House”

  1. Justin Thyme says:

    I remember the Minute Man because it was one of the few fast-food restaurants open in downtown Little Rock and that it was seemingly always open. Great place to get a burger and onion rings in between editions!

  2. the #4 I think it was called a salad burger…

    I would burn my mouth every time with the Radar Pie (cherry)

  3. Ken Bissell says:

    My memories of the Little Rock Minute Man as a youth were the trips my dad and I made from Nashville (AR) to watch the Razorbacks in WMS in the early 70s. It was a ritual that we would grab a burger before we went to the stadium. Great times.

  4. rexnelson says:

    Great times indeed, Ken!

    For those of us from Southwest Arkansas, the trips to War Memorial Stadium were special.

    It is good to have you back in Little Rock — Rex

  5. John P says:

    As a wee lad – 13 years old or so – I’d ride my bike up the the Minute Man on Cantrell (the current location of Casa Manana) and order a #2 with cheese, fries and a strawberry pie. Why my mother ever let me cross Cantrell Road on a bike I’ll never know. Or maybe she didn’t know…

  6. Jeff says:

    I remember the MM that was in Jacksonville, used to love the Hickory burger and the peach pies.

  7. Ted Barker says:

    strawberry pie at Minute Man in Arkadelphia

  8. Dennis Byrd says:

    It has to be Minute Man’s No. 2 with hickory smoke sauce. If you got it with the shredded cheddar, so much the better! By the way, longtime sportswriter Grant Hall from Northwest Arkansas is a nephew of Wes. He may have a menu.

  9. rexnelson says:

    Dennis: I had no idea that Grant was Wes Hall’s nephew.

    Now I am impressed! — Rex

  10. Ron Oliver says:

    The one in El Dorado is the last. I ate there recently. Ordered # 10, a burger with jalapenos. The lady said when she’s gone, it’s gone, because her kids have no interest in carrying on.

  11. Mike McNeill says:

    I often ate supper at the Minute Man in El Dorado during my two years working nightside at the News-Times in the late 1970s. Still remember its burgers as among the 2-3 best chain burgers I’ve ever had. Once, I got some lousy service there and wrote a column about it, but I didn’t mention the restaurant’s name. Apparently, Minute Man figured it out. I received a personal letter of apology from Wes Hall. He appreciated the fact that I didn’t name the restaurant. He included a card good for a free meal. I kept that card in my wallet for many years — figured I might need it some day. It is possible that I still have the letter and the card somewhere but sorry, no menu.

  12. Don Curdie says:

    They didnt mention the Alamo Plaza Grill, the restaurant next to the Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts, 3800 Roosevelt Road, LR. Family restaurant and home made ravioli. I waited tables there when I was 14 and 15. Of course Roosevelt Road was the “interstate” of the 50s (the main road to St Louis) and my family owed and operated “The Grill” in the 40s, 50s and all the way up to 1961 when it was sold. Once, Gorgeous George the wrestler stayed at the Alamo Plaza Courts before a wrestling match in LR and he needed someone to roll up his hair,(he was known for his fancy hair-dos,) and he asked my mom, who was working at the family restaurant to roll it up for him prior to the match. She did and we got free tickets to the wrestling match downtown!!!

  13. rexnelson says:

    Ah, the Alamo Plaza.

    Thanks for the memories, Don — Rex

  14. Charles Rudolph says:

    Rex,

    Great story on the Ravine Battle. I was there for the 1972 -76 games, usually in support of the Tigers, but I liked a lot of Henderson players, too. I remember sitting a couple of rows behind Cliff Harris at one game..starstruck!!

    K. Bass and I were just recently waxing nostalgic about the Minute Man burger and it’s special taste (read grill/grease). I think another respondent indentified the hickory sauce burger (#2?) as his fave. It was mine too. During the summer of 1976 I was taking classes at OBU and I dined at the MM literally every day for lunch for a month. That locale’s parking lot was also a popular nighttime hangout. Driving to Arkadoo from Gurdon to cruise by the MM: that’s big city fun.

    thanks Rex!

  15. Charles Rudolph says:

    Rex,

    I must also mention, with great affection, the “Pig Pit” bbq joint that was located near Bowens at the intersection of 67 and I-30. A family drive-thru tradition: pork sammies on buns drenched w/ sauce and peach fried pies (“radar’ed” fer sure.) I believe that the Pit held on for many years. Was the owner an Arkadelphian?

    And, lastly, did your Dad take you to graze on the buffet at the Town House Restaurant? It was catty-corner from the Tastee Freeze, just south of the motel. It was my grandparents favorite, and our treat on Sundays. Coconut-covered bananas, multi-hued jello cubes, unlimited gravy, ummmm.

  16. rexnelson says:

    Charlie: The Town House was a regular stop for our family. It was Ken Bowen’s first restaurant before he became a small statewide chain (with the help of Wes Hall, I believe). There were later Bowen’s Restaurants not only in Arkadelphia but also in Conway, Mountain Home and elsewhere. The coconut-covered bananas you mention were a trademark of the place. My favorite restaurant in those days, however, was Gables across the street. It had the best chicken fried steak on earth.

  17. Charles Rudolph says:

    Rex,

    Thanks for the info on the Bowen’s evolution into a \chain\. Wes Hall in the mix, who knew? I can’t believe I didnt’ experience the Gables! I will question my parents about this post haste, for sure. Chicken fried steak is a topic that could/should be paradigm-shifting in the food world! It is dissed, but hey, how do you make it so irresistible! A sub-grade cut of meat prepared to transport the senses, with what? Anyone who has tried making a CFS at home knows what I mean.

    hint: LARD, salt n peppa proportions in gravy

  18. Debra says:

    Since I worked at the Minute Man in Jacksonville during the 60′s my favorite burger was the Chili Burger #5. Of course they were all good.

  19. Lee Johnson says:

    The Minute Man on University was my favorite. Back in the late 50s early 60s it was a good place to take a date for a quick burger. You had to be careful with the radar range pies or they’d give you a serious burn.

    A lasting memory, and not a pleasant one, is of the MM at 3rd & Broadway in LR. My CPA office was in the Tower Building and one night in ’73 during tax season I was working late. About 7:00pm I was hungry and went down to the MM and ordered a salad burger and fries to go. When I got back to the office and bit into my burger I immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. It was a salad sandwich, no burger to be found.

  20. Donna Roebuck Williams says:

    Hey Rex!

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane! I also loved the Minute Man and it seemed that the \church crowd\ would rotate restaurants every few months or so. I loved the Town House and Gables! Anyone remember The Spanish Kitchen or riding our bikes to The Gilded Cage ice cream and soda shop on the corner across from your dad’s business, Southwest Sporting Goods. Also vaguely remember a pizza parlor between Heard’s Drug Store and Phillip’s Drug Store…Spingalli’s. First time I remember having Root Beer and pizza served on metal trays! Ha! Across the highway from the Minute Man was the Tastee Inn? Best butterscotch coconut sundaes on the planet!

    Love your work Rex! Makes this Arkansas girl more than a little homesick!

  21. rexnelson says:

    Thanks, Donna.

    I loved the Spanish Kitchen. It was a Stuckey’s store before it was the Spanish Kitchen.

    I also loved the Gilded Cage. I have always considered it a great shame that there was never anyone with the resources to remodel and reopen the Caddo Hotel. Look what Viking Corp. was able to do with the old downtown hotel in Greenwood, Miss., now The Alluvian. Of course, we didn’t have a Viking Corp. in Arkadelphia.

  22. chuck gates says:

    The minute man at 3rd & broadway had the best burgers & fries in little rock.

  23. peter says:

    Menu (partial)
    #1 Thousand Island-type spread with onion.
    #2 Hickory Smoke Sauce (add cheese or onion to make it the best)
    #3 Old-Fashioned with mustard, Pickle and Onion.
    #4 Old-Fashioned cheeseburger . . . #3 add grated Cheddar Cheese.
    #5 Chili, Cheese and Onion
    #6 Salad Burger #1 sauce, Lettuce & Tomato.
    #7 Ham Sandwich with same dressings as #6
    #8 Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with same dressinngs as #6.
    #9 Western Omelette Sandwich with same dressings as #6.
    #10 Steak Sandwich Mayo, Lettuce and Tomato.
    #11 Fish Sandwich with Tarter Sauce and catsup.
    #12 Big M Two Patties with American Cheese slice in middle . . . #1 sauce, pickle, onion, tomato.

  24. peter says:

    Minte Man menu, that is.

  25. Martha Seabaugh says:

    Why doesn’t someone open another Minute Man in Little Rock or North
    Little Rock and use the original receipes. There was nothing better than
    a #2 with extra hickory sauce. I used to make kthe rounds of Snappy’s
    and all the other establishments on main street but when we wanted a
    burger, Minute Man was where we went.

  26. Texzilla says:

    I lived in Little Rock as a young boy from 67 to 71. My dad travelled on business a lot and my mom worked, so we ate out often. I ate at MinuteMan about once a week. That chili cheeseburger is still burned in my memory, and the radarrange pie filling was like liquid napalm.

    My first barbecue was eaten at the counter at The Shack near the main train station with a grape-ette soda. Dad had buttermilk, a curious thing to drink with barbecue but thats how he ate it. They stocked it. I am a native Texan who lived for years in Memphis, and I know barbecue. Ive never had barbecue like the shack.

    I remember Jimmy Bruno throwing pizzas, and the lobster tank at Hanks. First lobster eaten there. We used to eat in a fancy Chinese restaurant in the same area but I cant remember the name.

    We also ate at the villa on university, and i thought Brownings was the best TexMex around, although i enjoyed Mexico Chiquito outside NLRwith their guac and tomato juuce cocktail.

    We ate at the Frostop on Markham a lot, with great root beer and burgers.

  27. Ken Neil says:

    Wow I love this thread…I grew up in Crossett and would go 42 miles to El Dorado just to eat at Minute Man.
    Spent a lot of time in the old Minute Man at OBU but mostly shooting pool.
    Rex, I never saw your dog though.

    Ken

  28. Herman Branton says:

    Hi Rex -
    KTHV ran a segment about Wes Hall’s Minute Man Restaurant this evening and it brought fond memories from way back. The Minute Man became a reality to me when my grandfather’s company, M.O. Branton Construction, finished work on the original Broadway Minute Man location and the first menu was graced with Radar Burgers cooked in the bun! Hey, Radar burgers didn’t last long but remember, in 1948 this was new technology and it eventually morphed into the famous Minute Man Radar Deep Dish Pies and Radar cookers became Microwaves. My how time gets away.

  29. I worked for Minute Man in high school in Benton and started there in 1973. After i graduated from high school i was promoted to manager and was transfered to 4th and Broadway to manage that store at age 19. I had the pleasure of meeting and working for Mr. Hall. Everything was made from scratch. I can’t tell you how many burgers I cooked and ate. I never got tired of the menu because there was so many options to make the burgers. The relish sauce, hickory smoke sauce, all the fillings for the radar deep dish pies and it crust were made in the store. And not many people knew this but we made our own root beer. We also grated the cheddar cheese there in the store. The only Minute Man left is in El Dorado on Main Street and is owned by Ms. Linda who has been with Minute Man forever. They are open only Mon-Fri and take cash only. Ms. Linda doesn’t have the deep dish pies there anymore. It was a great place to work and had great food. Also don’t forget they had a chop sirloin platter and a fish and chips platter also on the menu

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