Almost a century ago, in 1919, C.A. Franke opened a doughnut shop on Little Rock’s West Capitol Avenue. After a few short years, it became a thriving business and in 1922 Franke built a large bakery at 111 West 3rd Street. Soon a fleet of trucks, nicknamed “wife savers”, could be seen delivering fresh baked goods door to door in neighborhoods throughout the city.
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 around the corner at 511 Louisiana and shared the same kitchen with the Capitol street cafeteria; 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 not before inspiring newer locations around the state. Franke’s has had many locations including Hot Springs, Fort Smith, North Little Rock’s McCain Mall, and Little Rock’s University Mall. Today the Cafeteria has come full circle with a location on West Capitol in the Regions Banking Center and our newest addition, The Market Place location on Rodney Parham.
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 Nut pecan pie continue to be customer favorites. Most recipes have remained unchanged from the originals and are often the subject of “recipe duplication debates”. 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 many decades and for four generations of the Franke family.
Franke’s success and longevity is due to consistently serving good food at reasonable prices, a long history of staff who have served the people of Arkansas with a full heart, and loyal customers who have become a part of our family and friends. As an Arkansas tradition, Franke’s offers more than just a home cooked meal, but a place for older generations to remember and a home for future generations to begin making memories.