An­other slice of pie

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Rex Nel­son Se­nior Ed­i­tor Rex Nel­son’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. He’s also the au­thor of the South­ern Fried blog at rexnel­son­south­ern­

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.”

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