Social media can, indeed, do mighty things. Betty White can testify.
Largely (or maybe entirely) thanks to a group page on Facebook titled, “Mr. Dunderbak’s in McCain Mall — bring it back!!!!“, the German-themed cult favorite will soon return to McCain Mall in North Little Rock, bringing back its long-missed bratwursts, sausages and soft pretzels with toppings.
Builders are scheduled to start construction this week, with an estimated opening date of mid-September.
In 2009, an anonymous fan started the Facebook page, which now has over 1,500 fans. Former owner, Richard Davidson of Hot Springs Village, said he knew nothing about the group at first, and at the time had no interest in reopening the restaurant, which he owned from 1973 until he sold it in 1990. The restaurant closed in 2000.
“I was throughly relaxed playing golf,” Richardson said. “I had no intention of going back into the restaurant business. But it really raised an eyebrow when [the Facebook group] first started bubbling.”
He said that his daughter caught wind of the group and encouraged him to consider it. “She was like a barking dog getting me to do it. ‘Why don’t you set that up again?’ she asked. ‘We’ll step into it when you retire.’ Again,” he added, laughing.
Richardson said the restaurant will include much of its former menu, including the aforementioned sausages, brats and pretzels. The deli counter will offer sandwiches such as Italian and club, and meatball subs. Gyros and Slovakian items will be available as well. Grocery items, such as jarred, imported items and candies, will not make a re-appearance at the new restaurant.
New additions will include a coffee bar and lounge in the back area of the restaurant, where guests may also enjoy a selection of beer and wine, pending the liquor license he applied for this week.
The most remarkable change at Mr. Dunderbak’s will be the addition of a vegan/vegetarian line. Richardson said that his daughter, who used to help at the original store while she was in junior high and high school, was a big influence in adding this to the menu.
“The line is called ‘Der Vegetarier,’ or ‘vegetarian’ in German,” he said. “Our vegan products will include such things as link sausages in Italian, Mexican chipotle, apple sage and frankfurter, and roasts made of vegetarian grain meat in lentil sage, wild mushroom and smoked tomato flavors, which can be sliced into savory deli sandwiches.”
He added that Silvek’s bakery in Little Rock is doing some specialty baking for them, including buns specially made for vegan customers.
Mr. Dunderbak’s soft pretzels alone are gaining a nostalgic response from many members of the Facebook group. Brandy Wallace Everett said, “Awesome! looking forward to the deluxe pretzel with cheese, pickles and sausage!!!” Several members have posted photos of their own home-made versions of the pretzels.
Richardson said that all the old favorite toppings will be there, such as the spreadable port wine or champagne cheeses, chopped pickles and sausage slices.
He said the pretzels, while not house-made, will be brought in frozen from a high-quality provider and baked fresh daily, as in the past.
When asked who started the Facebook group, Richardson said he didn’t know, but he suspects a management employee at McCain Mall.
The group’s first post, on March 25, 2009, was by North Little Rock resident Scott Kaufman: “I still remember going there.. even when I was a kid in the 70s. That was a unique place for the mall. I sometimes think it is still there as I wallk that way…only to be disappointed.”
Richardson said that, while the events leading up to reopening were unexpected, he’s not surprised at the excitement and nostalgia people feel toward his old establishment.
“It was a fun food place to go,” he said. “It will be quite a bit bigger, not elbow-to-elbow like it used to be, although some folks liked that about it. I think it will be pleasantly accepted when we take the barrier down.”
Ed’s note: You heard about this first, in February, here. That is, if you follow me on Twitter.
UPDATE: Scott Kaufman of North Little Rock did indeed start the group, he said in an interview on Wednesday.
“I have an interest in urban businesses,” he said. “I was thinking about McCain Mall and where it was years ago, when people used to come from all around. There were things that made it unique, such as Mr. Dunderbak’s. There’s nothing like that today.”
“I really missed it personally, too,” added Kaufman, who now works for UALR in administration. “I used to work in a little kiosk in the mall in the early 90s, and it was the perfect place to get a quick lunch. It was a great meeting place, too, for business.”
Kaufman said he started the group one Sunday night on a whim, and within days the group had over 300 fans.
“Obviously a lot of other people were into it, too,” he said. “And now it’s actually a little bit scary — I have this vision of [Richardson] putting his whole retirement into this. But I think we’ve got a good fan base to get him started.”