Hunter Thomason appeared calm and in control while answering questions during a recent conversation with a reporter.
Those qualities will serve him well during the next few months while opening a new restaurant in Rogers’ bustling Pinnacle Hills area.
Thomason is leading the first expansion for iconic Arkansas restaurant McClard’s Bar-B-Q. The restaurant is opening soon inside the former Pinnacle Bar & Grill space at 5001 W. Pauline Whitaker Parkway. Rogers-based Hunt Ventures is the building owner, and the initial lease term is five years.
Alex and Gladys McClard started the restaurant in Hot Springs in 1928. Four family generations owned it until this past summer when Hot Springs restaurateurs Lee Beasley and Dean Jennings bought the business.
Foodies have recognized McClard’s for its Delta-style tamales and house-smoked barbecue, food that garnered numerous state and national accolades and made McClard’s a destination restaurant.
“I think this is the strongest restaurant market in all of Arkansas,” Thomason said. “Pinnacle Hills specifically. With COVID loosening up and the office users coming back, it’ll be not only a strong lunch market, but it will be a solid dinner market.”
Thomason’s interest in the hospitality industry comes from his parents, who owned restaurants in Little Rock. Tracye Thomason Whitt co-owned Pasta J’s. Rodney Thomason, his father, had an ownership stake in Cathead’s Diner and Furneaux.
Thomason said McClard’s in Rogers would feature the traditional Hot Springs menu with additions of salad options and smoked chicken seven days a week. Poultry is only a menu option in Hot Springs one day a week.
The Rogers restaurant will also have a full bar and event catering. Eventually, McClard’s will offer brunch.
“We want to make sure that what the family has had for almost 100 years stays intact,” Thomason said. “We have trained in Hot Springs with [co-owners] Phillip McClard and Scott McClard. We’ve got their recipes. It will be as authentic as we can make it without Mr. Phillip himself doing the cooking.”
Thomason said he acquired some restaurant insight while working with Northwest Arkansas owners through his real estate management career. A Little Rock native, Thomason graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2012 and never left Northwest Arkansas. As a college senior, he began working for Kelley Commercial Partners in Springdale. In 2016, Little Rock firm Moses Tucker Real Estate opened a Fayetteville office, and Thomason was the sales and leasing coordinator.
Thomason later spent three years working for Seth Mims at Specialized Real Estate Group in Fayetteville. He now works for his father’s company, Little Rock-based Medical Assets Holding Company, a holding company for various healthcare, hospitality and real estate companies.
McClard’s in Rogers can seat 127 patrons inside, and there’s room for an additional 300 on a covered patio, which is also set up for live music.
“That [live music] is in the works, but not anything that we will roll out immediately,” Thomason said. “We’ll grow into that.”
Jillian Hamm is McClard’s general manager. Hamm spent 12 years working for Fayetteville-based restaurant chain JJ’s Grill and was vice president of operations.
A March 4 news release announcing the expansion said McClard’s would open April 1. Thomason said the opening date would be later than that but still some time by mid-April.