Almost a century ago, in 1919, C.A. Franke opened a doughnut shop on Little Rock’s West Capitol Avenue. After several years, it became a thriving bakery business. In 1922, Franke built a large bakery at 111 West 3rd Street. A fleet of trucks delivered the bakery goods in neighborhoods throughout the town.
In 1924, Franke opened the original Franke’s Cafeteria at 115 West Capitol. The cafeteria was near the major department stores and businesses in downtown Little Rock and the eatery prospered in this vital commercial area of downtown. A separate dining room was opened at 511 Louisiana around the corner from the Capitol street cafeteria with the same kitchen preparing food for both locations.
C.A.’s son, W.J. Franke worked with his father, and eventually became the second generation to run the cafeteria. W.J.’s son, W.K. (Bill) Franke learned the business from his father, and took the reigns as the third generation to run the cafeteria in 1983.
In 1960, the original cafeteria closed its doors, but many have opened since. Franke’s has had locations in Hot Springs, North Little Rock’s McCain Mall, Little Rock’s University Mall, and today the Regions Banking Center and Rodney Parham location represent the current locations.
Franke’s is still a family business. Bill and his wife, Carolyn, run the business, and their daughter, Christen, is the manager of the Downtown cafeteria and “Sack It” by Franke’s grill next door.
As Arkansas’s oldest restaurant, Franke’s has its share of longtime customers and employees. One server, Rufus Whitmore, began working for Franke’s in 1940 and still can be found at the Rodney Parham location.
Some of Franke’s menu items are legendary, lead by the eggplant casserole and egg custard pie. The sliced roast beef, candied sweet potatoes, hand breaded fried okra, and Karo pecan pie are some other favorites. Most recipes have been used for years and the food line at Franke’s Cafeterias with its array of cold dishes, steaming meats, assorted vegetables, and mouthwatering deserts has kept customers coming through the doors for decades and for four generations of the Franke family.
Franke’s success and longevity is due, in part, to consistently serving good food at reasonable prices. As an Arkansas tradition, Franke’s offers more than just a home cooked meal, but a place for older generations to remember and future generations to make continue making memories.