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Breakfast at Bard's.

Breakfast At Bard's

A 31-Year-Old Little Rock Restaurant Gets A New Owner While Trying To Preserve Tradition

It is just before 8 a.m. A blinding sun greets Tuesday drivers on Interstate 630 as they head for work following the long Memorial Day weekend.

The interstate is jammed with cars thrusting forward, then halting. Rushed drivers hold their wake-up coffees precariously over their gear shifts as they attempt to make it to the office on time.

A few miles away at Bard's Family Restaurant in the Heights, the atmosphere is vastly different. It might as well be 1,000 miles away from the glum, workaday hordes on the freeway.

The sun's rays stream through the large picture window and warm the checked tablecloths.

Waitresses, looking more like candy stripers in red-and-white striped aprons, refill coffee cups.

Customers finish their last bites of biscuits and bacon while reading the daily papers.

As soon as Pete Hornibrook, senior vice president at Rector Phillips Morse, walks through the door, someone in the front of the restaurant casually calls out about a possible apartment complex trade.

Hornibrook says he'll keep his ears open. He then proceeds to a round table -- the Round Table to Bard's regulars -- in the back. Seven or eight businessmen are already sitting there.

Hornibrook takes off his jacket and places it behind the chair he chooses near another local builder, Jack Hartsell.

Someone says to Hartsell, "I saw your name in the paper yesterday."

"What? On a wanted list?" Hartsell asks.

"No, breaking ground on a building in Chenal."

The light banter continues, giving the appearance that these men are unwinding with drinks after work rather than gearing up for the day with coffee.

But it's just an average morning with an average crowd at Bard's -- the Heights hangout.

"You name it, they're here," says Jeff Sharp, the restaurant's new owner. "This is where the Heights meets. It's a community gathering place."

And it has been for 31 years.

Bard Barnes purchased the location at 1902 N. Grant St. in the early 1960s. Although the restaurant now has its fourth owner, its tradition remains intact.

It's a tradition that includes daily gatherings of businessmen in the back at the Round Table, Saturday morning meetings up front of former movers and shakers who now are retired Edgehill residents and the host of other Heights and Hillcrest residents who regularly fill the remainder of the restaurant.

While it's obvious there is something that keeps these people consistently coming back -- some daily -- even the customers can't pinpoint exactly what that "something" is.

Come Early

Faded paneling and globe lighting create the 1950s milieu that is Bard's.

A row of Arkansas Times restaurant awards lines the wall above the 40-year-old soda fountain. On the opposite wall, five photo montages feature customers who have frequented the restaurant through the years.

"We're going to start that up again," Sharp says. "There are a lot of dead people in these pictures."

Indeed, Bard's has been around long enough that several of its regulars have died.

The late Pratt Remmel was part of the group that meets Saturday mornings. The analogy of "The Last Man Out" is used to describe the group of retired businessmen who gather there.

Tyndall Dickinson, a local contractor, says he and his entourage once met at other restaurants, but soon they all lived near Bard's.

"It was a little more convenient," Dickinson says.

And what's the elusive quality that makes them keep going to Bard's?

Dickinson says, "We just tried them out, and they were nice to us. So we stayed."

The men don't talk about anything in particular, although Dickinson says, "It seems to me like we argue a lot about football and politics."

"It's not all that glorious," says Tony Dyke, a retired contractor who meets daily at the Round Table. "They open early. Most everybody who eats there lives in the Heights, and there's not that many places to go."

After pausing to think for a second, Dyke adds, "There probably wouldn't be many places that would put up with us."

Sherman Williams, who recently sold Bard's after owning it for almost a decade, says he devoted time to cultivating friendships.

That might be the secret to the restaurant's success.

It's a simple recipe.

"We always tried to be pleasant," Williams says. "We told the waitresses to smile."

Williams can remember many of his customers' favorite meals.

Bill Dillard is a big chili fan, Williams says. Sen. David Pryor is partial to chicken fried steak, usually accompanied by three orders of fresh turnip greens.

Pryor is one of the most regular of the many politicians who eat at Bard's. Politicians who frequent the place include Sen. Dale Bumpers, former Little Rock Mayor J.W. "Buddy" Benafield and most of the state representatives who happen to be in town.

Pryor is the only favorite with campaign memorabilia still noticeable. There's a Pryor magnet stuck on the pay phone near the cash register. A Pryor coffee mug holds an ice cream scooper on the counter.

Sharp wants to keep both the politicians and the Heights residents coming. It looks as if he'll be able to.

Former state Rep. Jim Keet sent Sharp a congratulations letter as soon as he found out Sharp was the new owner.

Sharp says that although Bill Clinton eats at Bard's, the governor hasn't been in to see him -- yet.

"He better come up here and see me, I'll tell you that," Sharp says.

When Clinton does come, he best come early if he wants a seat. It's either that or come later after the regulars begin clearing out.

That's because breakfast at Bard's -- not to mention the home-cooked lunches and dinners -- is big business and a genuine Little Rock tradition.

PHOTO : THE REGULARS: The Round Table is home to 20-25 regulars who sit in the back of Bard's each morning drinking coffee, reading the paper and talking football and politics.

PHOTO : FAMILY STYLE PLUS: Bard's Family Restaurant is not just for families. The numerous politicians -- most of the state representatives when they're in town -- who frequent the restaurant make it the Heights hangout.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Jeff Sharp takes over Bard's Family Restaurant and preserves its tradition of service
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jun 3, 1991
Words:1026
Previous Article:In the bank.
Next Article:In search of equalization.
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