Born and raised in Little Rock, Kelly Brown moved to Northwest Arkansas to attend college in 2006. She never left.
She intended to become a teacher and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2012 with a degree in business teacher education. By then, she was already on her way to a successful career in a separate direction: hospitality.
To pay her way through school, Brown took a job in 2008 as a hostess at Theo’s, a popular restaurant on Fayetteville’s Dickson Street. By the time she received her UA diploma, Brown had worked her way up to a front-office management job with Bowman Hospitality Group. That’s the parent company of Theo’s locations in Fayetteville and Rogers and Eastside Grill in Fayetteville.
A few months after Bowman ceased operations during the pandemic, Fayetteville restaurateur Todd Martin, who owns Southern Food Company restaurant, bought the restaurants and created South by Northwest Hospitality (SXNW).
Brown was a key leader in the transition, which ultimately kept more than 100 jobs in Northwest Arkansas. She said the restaurants, collectively, are within 10% of being back on track of pre-pandemic sales.
Brown isn’t one for complacency. She led the establishment of a new health benefits package for the company’s full-time employees — about 30 — and is now developing a 401(k) program for all workers.
“The hospitality industry is not great when it comes to benefits packages, and we are trying to raise the bar on that,” she said.
A self-professed multitasker, Brown organizes SXNW’s support of Fayetteville Public Schools’ free and reduced-price meal program. She also does wedding planning on the side and became an ordained minister last year to aid in that endeavor.
Brown also fosters dogs through the Animal League of Washington County.