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Eat, Play, Shop, Live, Visit, Work. Your daily stop for the latest on all things Arkansas, including your comments. Send blog tips and feedback to Associate Editor Lauren James here.
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Check Out the Little Rock Marriott Renovations

Gallery by Jess Ardrey

Exciting news! The Little Rock Marriott, a popular spot for central Arkansas brides, recently got a facelift, a big one. We stopped by their preview party to check out the renovations and we’re pumped about it!

There's an in-house dining service (cakes too!), gorgeous views, patio with fire pits for the dance shy attendees and plenty of space for you guests to stay in a fabulous downtown Little Rock hotel. 

See for yourself!





PHOTOS: Little Rock Marriott Grand Reopening

Gallery by Jess Ardrey


On Sept. 30, the Little Rock Marriott celebrated the completion of its $16 million renovation in downtown with a relaunch party that included food, drinks and crash cymbals. 

Crowds got to sample some of the delicious offerings from the brand new Heritage Grille Steak and Fin while touring the completely remodeled facilities, and were treated to performances by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Brass Band, the St. Mark’s Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir, the Mabelvale Elementary and Little Rock Central High drumlines, complete with LRCH cheerleaders to send you home. 

This is definitely a spot to keep in mind for meetings, events and meals if you’re in the area. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see us taking advantage of the Starbucks in the lobby. You snooze, you lose.

Check out some of the highlights.









Fuller and Son to Open Store in the Heights

Image by Fuller and Son

Good news, handy folks! 

Fuller and Son announced it's opening a new store in the Heights. The shop will be located in the previous home of Hestand's grocery store at The Heights Center, next to The Toggery. 

On its Facebook page, the hardware store wrote: 

"For years now we've wished for a store in the Heights, but retail space being such a precious commodity in that area made it seem like it would remain a wish...until now."

Owner JR Fuller told Soirée the new store will offer the same service and merchandise but expect a different look. "We're introducing a more modern, clean feel in terms of aesthetic but not taking away from what we've done on a service side and that is, we are still a working man's hardware store and want to provide exceptional knowledge and service to the community," Fuller said.  

Fuller went on to explain its distrubutor, Orgill, helped introduce this new concept that focused on areas where square footage was at a premium. Read more about the idea here. 

Renovations are currently underway. 

Fuller hopes to have doors open in early to mid November but tells Soirée, the date may change depending on construction. 

Fuller and Son currently has six stores in Little Rock and Maumelle.


Tour Chris H. Olsen's Autumn Gardens Saturday

Image by Botanica Gardens

We’ve made it pretty clear that we plan on spending as much time as we possibly can soaking up the new season. Local landscaping authority Chris H. Olsen has the same idea and that’s why he’s opening his gardens for the Autumn Home and Garden Design Walk. 

Not only will guests get to feast their eyes on some incredible vegetation, but they will also learn how to become fall gardening gurus themselves from a seasoned sage (pun definitely intended).

The tour is $20 a person and will be Oct. 4 from 10-11:30 a.m. For a bit of a preview, you can check out Olsen's YouTube channel. To register or for more information, visit the Botanica Gardens website or call (501)-614-3000. 

PHOTOS: Potbelly Turns on the Ovens


Two words: A Wreck. Potbelly connoisseurs, you know what I'm talking about. If not, read on.


There it is. Layered between your choice of toasted multi-grain wheat or regular bread, is a juicy stack of salami, roast beef, turkey, ham and swiss cheese. Behold, The Wreck. (It is likely named after watching me eat this sammie in a public place.) This is just one of the dozen hot subs offerred by the sandwich chain locally owned and operated. Open at midtown at Park Avenue, 314 South University, St. 160, (near Target) the menu also features soup, shakes, malts and smoothies. Our readers tell us these shakes are worth the trip alone. Done and done.



With locations in more than 20 states, this is the first Potbelly in Arkansas. 

Click here to take a look at the full menu. 

Stay up-to-date on the latest happenings on Potbelly's Facebook page here. 

Tagged > Potbelly

In Little Rock's Highly Competitive Dessert Market, These 9 Ladies Reign Supreme


Ever had Local Lime’s tres leches cake or the cinnamon roll bread pudding at Natchez? What about the strawberry shortcake at E’s Bistro or the Boston cream pie at The Pie Hole? Maybe you’ve tried a salted caramel popsicle from Le Pops? Somewhere along the way, you’ve attended a wedding that featured one of Sweet Love’s fancy cakes, right? Behind all of these creations are the blood, sweat and tears of nine fantastically talented women. Read more about them and their decadent, inspired desserts.

portrait photography JASON MASTERS  •  food photography DEAN WHEELER


1. Lauren Harrison | The Pie Hole

The Pie Hole, one of Little Rock’s newest food trucks, is owned and operated by Lauren Harrison. Specializing in both sweet and savory pies, Harrison makes everything from scratch, using locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. A full spectrum of pies, including coconut cream, lemon icebox, oatmeal cream and Boston cream, as well a variety of quiches, are part of the menu. “I actually use several of my grandmother’s recipes. I have them framed all around my kitchen ...,” says Harrison. She continues, “There are so many things I love about owning The Pie Hole. Typically with pastry chef jobs, you make the food, it goes out the door and you never see the customer. With the truck, I’m able to make pies and see the look on people’s faces when they take their first bite. It is so rewarding to know that the love I put into each pie is returned,” says Harrison.

Where/When: Check The Pie Hole’s Facebook page for location and times.


2. Kelli Marks | Sweet Love

Sweet Love is a west Little Rock bakery specializing in custom cakes and cookies. At the head of it all is owner and head baker Kelli Marks. “There’s something about cake. It’s almost the chicken and the egg, ‘Is it a party because there’s cake or do you get cake because it’s a party?’ People invite me (my cakes) into some of their most special events — birthdays, baby showers, weddings. That’s a special feeling to a be part of these momentous occasions,” says Marks. Outside of beautiful cakes and cookies, folks can expect a variety of cupcakes, including the popular White Wedding and Peanut Butter Yum. Marks also makes brownies, tarts, kolaches and individual salted caramels, just to name a few. This writer’s personal favorite is the Sweet and Sassy Sweet Potato Pie (two-year winner of the “Say it Ain’t Says” Sweet Potato Pie Contest).

Where: 8210 Cantrell Road
When: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday


3 & 4. April and Kristi Williams | Brown Sugar Bakeshop

Brown Sugar Bakeshop, the dessert parlor located in the heart of downtown, is co-owned by sisters April and Kristi Williams. Together, they combine old-fashioned sweets with fresh, gourmet ingredients, all with a no-frills, unpretentious approach to baking. Regulars love the red velvet cupcakes, blondies (our personal fave), caramel pecan cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies. The ladies also make brownies, pies, cakes, muffins and various pies. Also, keep an eye on their social media for specials. “What we love most about what we do is that it is downright fun. We like coming here. Yes, it gets tough and tiring sometimes, but we love each other, connecting with the people, good music and great sweets,” says Kristi Williams.

Where: 419 E. Third St.
When: 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday


5. Jacquelyn Pittman | The Pie Shop at Terry’s Finer Foods

The Pie Shop is the dessert counter located right inside Terry’s Finer Foods in the Heights. Managed by Jacquelyn Pittman, it offers daily pies (both whole and by the slice), as well as custom orders Monday-Saturday. Some of the more popular items include oatmeal cream whoopies, German chocolate pie and Key lime pie. Pittman couldn’t be happier with her unique partnership with Terry’s. “The most important aspect of our business model and plan is community involvement. Many areas of Little Rock have seen tremendous growth in the past 10 years. We felt that it was time some of the local food talent set their sights on bringing the west Little Rock-sized crowds into an area that truly needs it. The Heights and Terry’s Finer Foods, in particular, is truly a local gem that needs to be appreciated by a larger demographic of people,” says Pittman.

Where: 5018 Kavanaugh Blvd.
When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday


6. Elizabeth McMullen | E’s Bistro

Elizabeth McMullen, chef and owner of E’s Bistro in North Little Rock, has a love for food that started at a young age and continues to be the driving force behind each of the desserts at E’s Bistro. Her signature lemon pecan pie, along with the coconut cream pie, Mandarin orange cake, fresh peach cake, strawberry shortcake and bread pudding with caramel sauce, are all popular desserts at the restaurant. Part of McMullen’s inspiration comes from a familiar name. “I was a big fan of Julia Child, and I used to watch her cooking programs and always try out her recipes. I had the opportunity to meet Julia when I was in New York several years ago. What a great lady!” says McMullen. Of all her unique culinary creations, we’d have to say the strawberry shortcake is our favorite and definitely worth the short drive over the river.

Where: 3812 JFK Blvd., North Little Rock
When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (lunch service); 5-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (dinner service)

7. Zara Abbasi | Natchez Restaurant

Executive pastry chef Zara Abbasi of Natchez Restaurant has made quite a name for herself in a relatively short period of time. This is due in large part to some of her delicious desserts, like the peanut butter pie, cinnamon roll bread pudding, Nutella cream pie and Cowboy cookies. Chef Abbasi’s creativity and use of seasonal products often lead to a varying dessert menu, and her passion for baking shines through in each creation. “The entire reason I was ever drawn to food is because I wanted to bring people together. I don’t like overly scrutinizing ingredients or food snobbery because I just like to make my friends, family and, now customers, happy. It’s not just about food to me. It really is about happiness,” says Abbasi.

Where: 323 Center St.
When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday (lunch service); 6-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday (dinner service)


8. Autumn Hall | Yellow Rocket Concepts

When you’re Autumn Hall, the director of pastry for Local Lime, Big Orange and ZAZA’s, creating and overseeing desserts for various restaurants can, at times, pose some challenges. “It’s certainly never boring. As much as it can be like herding cats at times, I absolutely love my job, and I love cats. At the rate we’re growing, you have to accept challenges and chaos. But it’s the right kind of chaos. Baking takes time, patience and science, things which don’t always mesh well with the fast-paced restaurant world,” says Hall. Judging by the reception of her desserts, things are meshing quite well. Some of Hall’s more popular items include the lemon ice box pie at Big Orange, as well as her key lime tart and 3-rum tres leches cake at Local Lime, and of course, her variety of shake specials. “I get to use local, organic and the best ingredients whenever possible. I can’t imagine working for anyone else or doing anything else now. I’ll wrangle cats in retirement or teach them to bake, I guess,” says Hall.

Where/When: Various locations and hours of operation; visit each individual Facebook page for regular updates.


9. Laurie Harrison | Le Pops Gourmet Iced Lollies

Laurie Harrison is the owner and general manager of Le Pops, the handmade popsicle and shaved ice shop located in the Heights. Harrison works closely with family members and makes everything from scratch, using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients with no additives. “My son David, for example, came up with the waffle mix for the waffle-wrapped pops,” says Harrison. Big sellers include the salted caramel, chocolate marvel, French vanilla and strawberry popsicles. “We have about 40 flavors that rotate, and we are always experimenting with new ones. We offer five cream flavors and five ice flavors each day, and we usually have Pure Sunshine available because it has no added sugar,” she says. Le Pops offers flavors for more adventurous palates as well, such as cucumber jalapeño, blueberry cardamom and our personal favorite, the pineapple cilantro.

Where: 5501 Kavanaugh Blvd. When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday

Board Chair Kurt Knickrehm Leads ACCESS Into Bright Future

For an astounding 20 years, ACCESS Schools have served Little Rock and the surrounding areas by offering full-time education, therapy, training and activities for young people with learning disabilities. As the school embarks on a year of festivities to celebrate this milestone, its students, teachers, therapists, families and board members, including chairman of the board and Regions Insurance vice president, Kurt Knickrehm, are using the anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on the last 20 years and use the knowledge they’ve gained to propel them into the future.


What began as a small therapy clinic, ACCESS was founded by Tammy Simmons and Cindy Young in 1994 and housed in an office building in midtown Little Rock. It quickly became obvious that a classroom setting would enhance the progress of their students, and so, a year later, Monika Garner-Smith joined the duo when they expanded services to include ACCESS Pre-School with one classroom of seven students.

“At the time, we never thought we would grow into the setting we have today. The needs of families have always dictated the direction of ACCESS and we have grown incrementally along the way,” Simmons says. Four short years later, demand for a school-age program was high enough to warrant a second expansion of services and ACCESS Academy was born. “The office building was not the most optimal setting,” Simmons admits. “Our playground was down a set of stairs and our kitchen consisted of a microwave and toaster oven. Our board was passionate about helping us seek a new location to serve more students and clients.”

Around this time, Kurt Knickrehm, who had recently relocated to Arkansas from Denver with his wife, Ashley, and two children, Cole and Lily, was serving as the director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) when then-lieutenant governor Win Rockefeller took him on a tour of ACCESS Academy. “There’s such a need in our community for the services that ACCESS provides,” Knickrehm says of his first impression of the school. “The amount of time and energy it takes to raise a child with disabilities is a staggering issue to deal with from a parent’s standpoint. And what we saw here was an opportunity to deal with those issues in a very holistic way while also looking for services that could offer real improvements in their children.”

By 2001, ACCESS had already seen steady growth since its inception, and as they moved into their new location on Breckenridge Drive, a 36,000-square-foot space in the former Little Rock Christian Academy campus, the school was able to triple in size and begin offering programs outside the classroom. ACCESS Gardens and Ceramics programs were added, and student activities were expanded to include student council, prom, cheerleading and participation in local and state Special Olympics programs.

Knickrehm joined the ACCESS board of directors in 2005. He was able to apply his knowledge from DHS and his passion for the school’s mission to help with the ever-expanding list of services ACCESS could offer to its students, as well as to the community. “Because it meets so many needs for the families who have children here, ACCESS becomes important not only for those families but for the community around them as well. It’s important for our educational system, for the businesses that are hiring our family members, and frankly, ACCESS is a model for other institutions, not just in our state but in all the Southern states.”

“Not every state has a resource like ACCESS,” Simmons adds. “We have had families move from Dallas, California and Alabama, to name a few, to place their children in our programs. Many families will tour ACCESS before making decisions about taking jobs here.”

As both a board and community member, Knickrehm was learning firsthand the effect ACCESS can have, not only on a child’s life, but on the lives of those around them. He and his family had moved in next door to a family who had a child that was a student at ACCESS. “She was over at our house quite a bit,” Knickrehm says. “She was an exceedingly gregarious young woman, and out of the blue, she called up my son, Cole, and asked him to be her date to ACCESS’s prom. My son, unbeknownst to anyone else, said yes. No one had figured out scheduling or transportation but regardless, they had a date. I ended up chaperoning them that evening, so I got to be a part of the first ACCESS prom. I was very proud of both my son and of ACCESS that night.”


When Knickrehm began his service to ACCESS, the school offered just one level of service – the program for school-age children. They have since expanded to include a therapy program, after-hours programs and an assessment and testing component. “The biggest change since I’ve been working with ACCESS has been the extension of those services to the older population,” Knickrehm says. “Not just high school, but beyond that, focusing on the vocational training after students finish school. Project Search is the first push into true independence, which is really what the ACCESS mission is all about,” Knickrehm says.

Project Search is a joint effort between ACCESS and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in which individuals with developmental disabilities learn sustainable, marketable skills during internship stints at UAMS in the hopes of receiving a related job in the workforce later on. Teaching these life skills to ACCESS students is a top priority for Knickrehm, who now serves as chairman of the board of directors. “How do we continue to support these individuals after they are no longer in school?” he asks. “We have to identify opportunities for them to be productive in the workforce, and maintain those opportunities. Project Search fundamentally changes the game.”

With 20 years under its belt, ACCESS has grown from a classroom of seven children to serving more than 200 clients and students of all ages per week. The group continues to grow every day, though exactly what the future holds is uncertain. Recently, Knickrehm challenged ACCESS to find new and innovative ways to track the improvements of students going through the ACCESS programs with a data-driven component. “The tools are all over the board, and there’s no real consistent patterns,” he says, “but I think despite it being a challenge, we need to be able to get those outcomes in some sort of meaningful format so that payers can know, parents can know and we can all gauge what’s working and what’s not.”

For Simmons and the other founders of ACCESS, it’s dedicated supporters such as Knickrehm who act as the backbone of the organization. “As a leader, Kurt is a strategic thinker and at the same time, very practical in discussions of big initiatives,” Simmons says. “He pushes us toward the future in meaningful ways and encourages us to keep refining and improving our processes. With this type of leadership, I’m confident we will continue to provide quality services that reach more families.”

Dr. Mom: OB/GYN Jenny Gregory on Women's Health, Career & Family


The life of any parent can often feel zoo-like. You may be nodding your head wildly as you think of your morning whirlwind getting kids out the door for school and how it felt like corralling cheetahs or prodding giant tortoises along. Parents’ daily lives are up and down like the horses on the iconic carousel at the Little Rock Zoo. You may think that’s why we chose the popular family fun destination as the backdrop for our feature photo shoot. Well, a little, but it’s also one of our feature family’s favorite places to play the day away.

Dr. Jenny Gregory certainly has a lion’s share of responsibilities on her plate. She is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Little Rock Gynecology and Obstetrics, PLCC on the Baptist Campus. Her husband, Wade, is an Emergency Medicine Physician. They have three daughters, Lillian Claire Gregory (Lily) 3 1/2, Evan Elizabeth Gregory (Evan) 1 1/2, and girl #3 on the way.

Wade and Jenny met while at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and were married in 2007. Both are from tight-knit families in the central Arkansas area. She says now their favorite things about being parents are, “The laughter. These girls make us smile every day. To watch them grow and develop and see the world through the innocence of a child’s eyes is such a gift. Having kids has brought a whole new level of joy and unconditional love to our lives.”

“Being a parent is the most rewarding and hardest thing that I’ve ever done. I think the challenge is just fitting it all in. Finding time for work, family, church, friends, exercise, volunteerism, and relaxation is tough. It is definitely a sacrifice for all parents and my hat goes off to the single parents out there,” she says. “It certainly takes a village!”

She says, “Wade is laid back and a “softie.” I am more the disciplinarian. Neither one of us is very uptight when it comes to parenting. I don’t do Pinterest and I am definitely no Martha Stewart, but our kids are loved, happy and healthy.”

When considering staying connected as a family, Gregory shares, “I try to plan fun little adventures each week. Nothing fancy, it could be anything from going to the playground to running an errand. As long as you engage them, talk to them, and listen to them. Kids don’t have to be entertained with expensive toys or theme parks. Children just want to feel important. We also make a point to turn off the TV, computer, and iPad for dinner so we can talk about our day. Bedtime is also big for us. We always read books, say prayers, and tell stories. I usually rub their faces or bellies until they fall asleep.”


Little Rock Family: What was your experience with infertility?

Jenny Gregory: We tried for 18 months to get pregnant. I became pregnant on Clomid (an infertility drug), but we had a miscarriage. That was really tough. I cried myself to sleep for a month, but time does heal. I believe that baby is our little guardian angel in heaven. Everything happens for a reason. I know that God has His plan. That miscarriage has helped me empathize with my patients who experience similar situations. After the miscarriage, we took Clomid again and became pregnant with Lily fairly quickly. Surprisingly, we conceived Evan spontaneously within a few months of trying and on no fertility drugs. The third was a true surprise, well shock, actually. We wanted another child, but had planned to wait a little while. We are truly blessed.

LRF: What were you like as first time parents?

JG: Residency actually prepared us for the sleep deprivation. We were used to running on a few hours of broken sleep. The responsibility of caring for such a tiny, helpless creature and having no free time was definitely a stressful adjustment for us both. I don’t think anything can adequately prepare you for those first few weeks, you just have to lean on each other. But after we developed our routine, everything became second nature.

LRF: How are you different as parents now?

JG: For us, the second child was an easy adjustment. Like most parents, we don’t stress over the same things as we did with our first. We let her “cry it out” more, we didn’t sterilize every little surface, and she didn’t get held 24/7. Luckily, Evan has been pretty laid back.

LRF: How has being a medical professional affected your approach to being a parent?

JG: I think I am more paranoid because I have seen so many scary situations and bad outcomes in residency. I tend to want to play it safe and take the kids to the doctor instead of trying to diagnose and treat illnesses myself. Wade is the opposite. I think our kids would have to be bleeding out for him to take them to the doctor.

LRF: What is the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

JG: The best advice I’ve ever heard is, unfortunately, one that we rarely follow—scheduling a regular date night. I think that parents get so entwined in their children’s activities that it’s easy to neglect each other.

LRF: What were your favorite family traditions or childhood memories?

JG: We spent the summers camping at Lake DeGray and vacationing in St. Augustine, Florida. I grew up dancing (tap, jazz, and ballet) beginning at the age of 3 and continuing through college and medical school. I dreamed of being a professional dancer and considered going to an arts school to major in dance. I knew my feet were too flat to be a professional ballerina and I did not have the voice to be on Broadway, so I decided to study science instead. A wise decision, but I still love the art of dance and plan to take a class again as soon as I can find the time.

LRF: What are some traditions you wish to pass down to your children?

JG: Most of our family traditions revolved around the holidays, such as cooking Thanksgiving dinner together or decorating for Christmas. We still take a beach vacation every year with my family. My mother and I have always taken fun “girl trips” to Las Vegas or New York and I plan to do that with my girls someday.

LRF: What are your hopes and dreams for your children?

JG: I want them to find their passion in life, have the confidence to pursue their dreams, and be kind to others along the journey.

LRF: What legacy do you want to leave your children?

JG: I guess I’ve never thought of leaving a legacy. I just do my best to be a great mother and role model for my girls. I want them to always feel loved. I find myself telling my girls the same things that my grandmother and mother have said to me all my life. If my girls think of me with the same reverence that I do my mother and grandmother, that would be a beautiful legacy.


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About The Author
What’s new in shopping, the arts, music, travel, fun parties and delicious food in Arkansas? Let Lauren James of be your guide. An avid shopper, traveler and lover of everything-arts-related, she will show you the best of what Arkansas has to offer. Make your go-to spot every day to learn the latest in entertainment, dining, attractions, activities and more.
Featured Post
On Sept. 30, the Little Rock Marriott celebrated the completion of its $16 million renovation in downtown with a relaunch party that included food, drinks and crash cymbals.

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