Tacos 4 Life, Gusano’s Pizza, Sumo among over $6 million in new investments on Phoenix Avenue corridor

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 13,705 views 

Construction has begun on the building that will house Baskin Robbins and Gusanos Pizza on Phoenix Avenue in Fort Smith.

The 4000-5509 block of Phoenix Avenue will be a busier place in 2018 thanks to over $6 million in new construction and a slew of new businesses led by Tacos 4 Life, Sumo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, and Gusano’s Pizza.

The new restaurants will open alongside established stores like Sodie’s Wine & Spirits, Academy Sports, Starbucks, and the stores at the Fort Smith Pavilion.

Conway-based Tacos 4 Life has yet to go up, but representative Kelly Wilson of KMW Properties requested on its behalf at a Tuesday (Jan. 2) planning commission study session a 26-spot conditional use for outdoor dining at the restaurant’s 4501 location between Starbucks and Best Buy. Wilson also requested a wall sign variance — currently not allowed at the location by Fort Smith zoning regulations — describing the restaurant’s core mission: “For any meal you buy, we will donate a meal to a hungry child.” Planning commissioners will likely okay the requests at a (Jan. 9) regular meeting.

Tacos 4 Life’s “meal4meal” program donates to the Feed My Starving Children initiative. According to the site, “For every taco, quesadilla, salad or rice bowl sold, 0.22 is donated to FMSC. They have produced a scientifically developed rice pack designed to meet the needs of severely malnourished children in over 60 countries. They have consistently received the highest grades awarded for accountability and transparency. 92 percent of donations are spent on feeding programs.”

Co-founders Austin and Ashton Samuelson opened Tacos 4 Life on June 9, 2014, and as of December 2017, their company has donated more than 4 million meals. Ashton Samuelson said the Fort Smith location is expected to produce 1,000 donated meals per day, while Austin Samuelson added that Fort Smith “has been anticipating a Tacos 4 Life restaurant for quite some time and we can’t wait to officially be a part of this community.”

Tacos 4 Life has specifically asked FMSC to send meals to Swaziland, Africa, and Honduras to an organization called Children’s Cup.

“Many of the children there face economic and health challenges. The food is used as a foundation to provide medical care, education, and skills training,” the company explained.

The Fort Smith Tacos 4 Life location will be the company’s eleventh when it opens in the early fall of 2018 as the company plans to open locations in Springdale and Rogers prior to a “ticket-entry soft opening” in the buildup to its grand opening. The Fort Smith restaurant will be one of three tenants at the location that also includes 4509 and 4511 Phoenix Avenue neither of which have been filled as of Jan. 3. Beshears Construction will handle the buildout, and initial permitting for the development will be $1.289 million.

In other developments, a two-unit location at 4621 and 4625 Phoenix Avenue will include a new AT&T retail store and Mattress Firm. Fort Smith building official Jimmie Deer told Talk Business & Politics “one will be to the right and one to the left of Starbucks,” though he was unsure which would be which. The overall shell building cost will be $1.2 million, and while situated in the same area as the pending Sumo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, the stores will be separate from the restaurant.

Deer said he has yet to see any permit filings on Sumo, but officials with the restaurant said the facility will cost around $2 million to build, and will employ about 60 workers. Fort Smith will be the chain’s third location in Arkansas, and it will be situated between Starbucks and Academy Sports. Jonesboro-based Haag Brown Commercial, a property development company, said Blue Point Investments Group purchased a 2.71 acre lot from KMW Properties — owned by the Hanna Family — on May 19. The purchase price was $1.045 million. Construction is set to begin in the first quarter of 2018. Sumo has restaurants in Jonesboro and Russellville.

Finally, more details have emerged on the $1.6 million permit filed in November for The Shoppes at Lee Avenue (5501-5505-5509 Phoenix, next to Sodie’s). Thus far, the three-unit structure will include a Baskin Robbins and Gusano’s Pizza. Bella Vista-based Gusanos has additional locations in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Pittsburg, Ks., Texarkana, Tx., and Joplin, Mo. Fort Smith will mark the Chicago-style pizzaria’s eighth location and fifth in Arkansas.

Deer confirmed all permits were filed in 2017, and while each will follow its own schedule, he expects many of the new businesses to open in 2018, likely by the middle of the year.