Note: We contacted Dogtown to clarify; their last day of service will be on Sunday.
Despite rave reviews and a recent remodel, Dogtown Coffee and Cookery in North Little Rock announced today on their Facebook page that this Sunday will be their last day of business.
“Despite of all of our efforts to lower cost without decreasing quality, we are having to close our doors on Monday, March 4, 2013,” the post stated. “It has been a painstaking decision for the owners, management, and our staff to accept. We would like to thank all of our staff, past and present employees, for their loyalty and hard work to bring you great food, coffee, and service.”
Dogtown reopened after a brief closure
in May 2012 to update their cooking equipment and install a grease trap, allowing them to prepare a much broader range of sweet and savory (and often combined, such as chicken and waffles) concoctions. The restaurant soon became underground-famous for its upscale, old-school plates such as roast beef, fried chicken and catfish, as well as innovative soups, panini and other sandwiches. Often the chefs would get even more creative and offer something like duck and grits or a savory waffle sandwich.
The restaurant enjoyed high reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon, as well as from local publications and reviewers.
Last spring, I wrote a report for culinary school about Dogtown’s former proprietor and chef Jason Godwin, intending to publish it here. (I’m publishing it now for posterity; see below.) But shortly afterward, Godwin departed the outfit to explore “a new chapter” of his life outside the food industry, according to a July 31, 2012 post on his personal Facebook wall. I never got the chance to meet the new chef, but from the look of things, quality of the food wasn’t the problem.
So, once again, small spots of awesome can’t make a buck, while the people of Arkansas vote Popeye’s the best fried chicken in town. Sigh.
Dogtown will be open regular hours this weekend, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dogtown Coffee and Cookery
6725 J.F.K. Boulevard
North Little Rock, AR 72116
North Little Rock Native Jason Godwin Makes Good with
Dogtown Coffee & Cookery
After years of study pursuing a career in international business, North Little Rock native Jason Godwin discovered his passion for cooking was worth coming home.
“I always thought I’d be in business,” Godwin said. “But since I was a kid, I wanted to open a restaurant. I thought it would be when I retired.”
Godwin’s formal education began with a degree in French at the University of Arkansas. This led him to Europe, where he studied international business in Scotland and France, working toward a masters’ degree in that field.
“In Scotland, I worked at one place called the Clyde Ramsey Cafe, which in a way was very much like Argenta Market but more rustic,” Godwin said. “They had organic vegetables, local cheese, and a cafe next door.
“They had this kind of set up with two chefs working side by side — which never works, by the way — one local Scot, and one from London. The British guy had a more worldly approach, grounded in how he handled things. The Scot was a fiery, wannabe Gordon Ramsey type, which was just covering his insecurities.”
Godwin marks this as one of his most memorable kitchen experiences.
His first restaurant job was of high pedigree as well, right here in Arkansas. While still in undergraduate school, Godwin worked one semester in Little Rock at Spaulé, under the renowned chef Paul Novicky.
“His bosses were the fathers of fine dining in Little Rock,” he said, including Paul Bash of the renowned 1980s marvel, Jacque and Suzanne. “That was my first taste of fine dining. I thought [Novicky] was the best chef, the way he carried himself and manipulated the food.”
In a few months, however, Godwin wilted under the high-pressure environment and vowed to never work in food again.
After earning his masters’ degree, he moved to southern California to pursue work in international business with Nestle, wanting to remain somehow connected to the food industry. He didn’t get the job.
“Then I joined AmeriCorps, through the VISTA program, for one year,” he said. “I worked with Share Our Strength through their Operation Frontline (Now Cooking Matters) program, based at the Springdale, Arkansas foodbank. VISTA pays you just 20 percent above the poverty level, just enough to get by and know what it’s like. At the end, they give you some money toward your college loans.
“I worked with chefs and nutritionists, recruiting them to teach cooking classes. I decided, through that process, that I wanted to go to culinary school.”
Vince Pianalto, chef at the former La Maison de Tartes in Fayetteville, taught many of Godwin’s classes through Share Our Strength, becoming his inspiration to finally take the leap into a culinary career.
“I wanted to position myself differently, so I went with a baking and pastry degree,” said Godwin of his culinary education at California Culinary Academy. “While I was in San Francisco, I sold cheese at Whole Foods and worked at a couple restaurants.”
When he returned to Arkansas, he worked with Shane Henderson and Coby Smith at Simply the Best Catering in North Little Rock, eventually becoming sous under Henderson when Smith left, and after a brief stint as pastry sous at the Capital Hotel during their renovation, went back to the catering operation.
Upon Henderson’s departure to open Argenta Market, Godwin became chef for two years at Simply the Best.
“In April 2011, the folks at Java Roasting Co. brought me in, basically to give this place a soul,” he said. “We tried in the beginning with no construction, just to basically pimp out a coffee shop. It didn’t work for long; we needed more.”
Godwin eventually took over the establishment and rebranded it as Dogtown Coffee and Cookery, quickly gaining notoriety for his sandwiches and breakfast items. Then, a letter from the city put his wishes for a wider menu into overdrive.
“Early this year, we got a letter from the city of North Little Rock saying we were going to have to put in a grease trap,” he said. “When they built the place, they weren’t doing any cooking that required one, but it turns out maybe they should have anyway.
“We decided to get our money’s worth and totally renovate the kitchen, making us able to offer a much wider menu. We’re putting in fridge and freezer walk-ins outside, a Vent-A-Hood with an Ansul (fire protection) system, a range with a stove and flattop, a fryer, and more undercounter cooler prep space.”
Upon reopening, the restaurant will offer breakfast all day and expand its entrée selections for lunch and dinner. Godwin says he hopes the renovation, to be completed this spring, will create a comfortable, family-friendly destination in North Little Rock, one that feels like “sitting on the porch at home.”
“I want old people to come and say, ‘I remember food like this.’ And I want young folks to come in and say, ‘This is some cool-ass, old-school food.’”