Another slice of pie
The Pancake Shop in downtown Hot Springs is crowded on this steamy Friday morning, but it’s the perfect place to talk about Arkansas food. It not only has excellent fare but also has a history of hosting colorful characters. It combines many of the things that Larry Foley loves about the Spa City.
Foley is chairman of the Lemke Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas. Later this month, he will be inducted at the Clinton Center in Little Rock into the Silver Circle of the Mid-America Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He will be honored along with three other Arkansas television legends—Jim Pitcock, Carolyn Long and Lew Short. I first remember seeing Foley in the late 1970s when he was based at Pine Bluff for KATV, Channel 7, and covered what seemed like an inordinate number of fires and murders. His KATV predecessor in Pine Bluff was another well-known figure in Arkansas broadcasting, Ray Tucker.
Foley began his broadcast career as a student at the UA, working for the student-run radio station KUAF. He graduated with a broadcast journalism degree in 1977 and started working at KATV, where Pitcock was the news director who was both loved and feared by his troops.
Foley later moved from
Pine Bluff to the main KATV newsroom in Little Rock. In 1984, Foley went to the Arkansas Educational Television Network and worked his way up to deputy director before joining the UA faculty in 1994. In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, he has become one of the region’s top documentary filmmakers.
“When I received the call that I was to be inducted into the Emmy Silver Circle, I was stunned and for one of the few times in my life speechless,” Foley says. “Being inducted along with my friend Carolyn Long and my mentor Jim Pitcock is special, beyond anything I could have ever dreamed up. When I started my career in television as a cub reporter in 1977, I was just hoping to hang on. Now, 40 years later, this happens.”
Foley still has the energy and enthusiasm of that young reporter who was rushing from fire to fire four decades ago. When the folks at AETN called and asked him to produce a documentary about pie in Arkansas, he couldn’t say no. In 2012, travel and food writer Kat Robinson published the book Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State. Last year, she was contacted by AETN about hosting a documentary on the subject.
“I see this as yet another opportunity to celebrate food in Arkansas,” Robinson says while eating her breakfast at The Pancake Shop. “It’s about time we started putting the word out about the good eats we have in Arkansas.”
Robinson was among those who created the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class earlier this year. Foley, meanwhile, recently completed a one-hour documentary, The Favored Strawberry. He teamed up with Dale Carpenter to complete the film, which was shot in Arkansas and seven other states. The Favored Strawberry is narrated by actor Ray McKinnon.
The Foley documentary that has received the most national attention is The First Boys of Spring, which chronicles how professional baseball spring training began in Hot Springs. The one-hour documentary, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor and Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton, has aired nationally on the MLB Network and was shown last year during a symposium at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Work on the film allowed Foley to spend a lot of time in a favorite city, Hot Springs.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than bring my wife to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, watch films, stay at the Arlington Hotel and eat breakfast each morning at The Pancake Shop,” Foley says with the enthusiasm of a boy on the first day of summer vacation.
The Pancake Shop opened in 1940, and the menu has changed very little since them. The original restaurant was owned by Albah D. Mason and operated as Mason’s Pancake Shop at 133 Central Ave. The restaurant was purchased in the 1950s by Chuck and Olive Conway of Chicago, and the name was changed to simply The Pancake Shop. It moved at that time to its present location at 216 Central Ave. That building had been home to restaurants ranging from the Liberty Cafe to the Italian Kitchen, which was owned by Italian immigrant Amedeo Ritenuti. The Pancake Shop was purchased by Tom and Ruth Ardman in May 1966. Tom died in 1980. The couple’s daughter, Keely DeSalvo, joined her mother in the business in 1995 and worked with her until Ruth died in 2004. DeSalvo still operates the restaurant and in 1998 began an upscale specialty food store next door known as The Savory Pantry.
We didn’t have pie for breakfast, but The Pancake Shop provided the proper setting to talk about famous Arkansas restaurants. Although his documentaries usually are shown on AETN, Foley hasn’t produced a show specifically for the network for many years. He decided to work on what will be titled Make Room for Pie because he and Robinson are supportive of the new AETN director, Courtney Pledger. She had spent the previous five years as director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and is committed to producing more Arkansas-based programs. Make Room for Pie is scheduled to debut in March.
“It sounded like a fun subject,” Foley says. “I’m busy, but I said to myself, ‘Why the heck not? There’s pie involved.’ If we do this film correctly, people are going to want to see more of this kind of thing.”
Senior Editor Rex Nelson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
He’s also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.