HER Eats

More than just great food

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Beth Reed and Re­beca Rec­tor, pho­tog­ra­phy by Grace Brown

I n just a few short months, Vault, 723 Cen­tral Ave., has started de­vel­op­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as an over­all ex­pe­ri­ence more so than a restau­rant.

Owned by Dr. Daron Praet­zel, the restau­rant is lo­cated within a for­mer bank build­ing, and with the work of Gen­eral Man­ager Randy Wo­mack, the struc­ture it­self pays homage to that his­tory.

“What we elected to do with the ex­te­rior of the build­ing, which was kind of grand with the gran­ite — that beau­ti­ful, green gran­ite out front — and the halo lit sig­nage out front at the en­trance, kind of led peo­ple to be­lieve that there might be some­thing like (a club) com­ing in,” Wo­mack said. “But truth of the mat­ter is, it wound up be­ing a choice that I thought was re­ally healthy for the ex­te­rior of this build­ing be­cause it’s an old bank build­ing and I thought it needed to be re­ally ma­jes­tic look­ing, and beau­ti­ful.”

Wo­mack said not many gen­eral man­agers in the in­dus­try are given the free li­cense to cre­ate a space like Praet­zel al­lowed him to do. Their friend­ship be­gan years ago, and Praet­zel had said at that time should he ever have the op­por­tu­nity to start a busi­ness in the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try, Wo­mack would be his choice for lead­ing it.

“I feel like I’m in an ex­ten­sion of my liv­ing room here. As much as I’m here, I don’t ever get tired of it,” Wo­mack said. “He’s been a real joy to work with and ba­si­cally he and I have seen eye-to-eye on about 99.5 per­cent of every­thing that we’ve dis­cussed to hap­pen here. It’s been a very sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship.”

The restau­rant, he said, is very am­bi­ent and en­sures that if guests like see­ing the place in the day­time, “you’ll love it at night.”

“Peo­ple that I know they’re food lovers, they’re wine lovers, a lot of them are friends of mine just be­cause I’ve been in the in­dus­try a long time. … I also know how much they cher­ish times like that with their friends,” he said.

“We have spe­cials ev­ery night and dessert spe­cials ev­ery night. All of our fish is flown in overnight, fresh. Our lob­sters ar­rive to us alive. Our oys­ters and clams ar­rive to us live. We keep them alive in 75-gal­lon salt­wa­ter tanks down­stairs.”

Wo­mack, who is a som­me­lier, said the wine list is ex­ten­sive, and for the sig­na­ture cock­tails, the restau­rant uses dry ice for a unique smoke ef­fect.

But when guests fin­ish a meal and search the menu for a taste of some­thing sweet, they’re met with an op­por­tu­nity to give back

in a big way. One em­ployee of the kitchen, Colton Miller, 17, cre­ated his sig­na­ture Colton’s Baklava, which is served with a car­damom raisin ice cream and all pro­ceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion.

“I hired Colton be­fore we opened,” Wo­mack said. “A girl­friend of mine was go­ing to come to work for us and told me about his jour­ney. She met him through Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion. She was par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Di­a­mond State Chef’s Com­pe­ti­tion in Lit­tle Rock and part of their outreach was to go visit chil­dren in the hos­pi­tal.”

Wo­mack said Miller had been very spe­cific about his in­ten­tions to pur­sue his pas­sion for cook­ing should he sur­vive his can­cer di­ag­no­sis. Dur­ing chemo and ra­di­a­tion, Miller said he watched the Food Net­work to pass the time.

“I wanted to cook what­ever I was watch­ing in the hos­pi­tal,” Miller said. “I would say ‘Write this down, mom,’ be­cause I was in and out of it all the time and couldn’t write down all the things I was want­ing to make. I al­ways wanted to make what I’d seen when I got home. That’s pretty much what drove my pas­sion to this.”

Miller had wanted to travel to Greece with his fam­ily, a wish that was granted to him through the foun­da­tion, but his jour­ney with the or­ga­ni­za­tion did not stop there.

“His mother and fa­ther had been con­tacted by Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion to use Colton in a na­tional ad cam­paign and Colton was the first child from Arkansas to be used in a Make-AWish cam­paign,” Wo­mack said. This prompted his mu­tual friend to set up a photo shoot in the restau­rant with Miller.

“He made some chicken ji­cama tacos with gua­camole and salsa, and he made Baklava be­cause his wish was to go to Greece with his mom and dad,” Wo­mack said. “Af­ter they spent all these hours of cook­ing just to get these pho­tos, he served us all.

“His Baklava is re­ally good. I’ve been do­ing this over 45 years, I rec­og­nized it was ac­tu­ally very de­li­cious and some­thing I’d be proud to serve. So my chef at the time who was go­ing to open with me, I said to him ‘Michael, what do you think of us­ing Colton’s Baklava in the restau­rant?’ And he goes ‘I’ll pair it with home­made car­damom ice cream and serve it with that.’”

The more he vis­ited with Miller’s par­ents who were at the photo shoot, Wo­mack said he de­cided he would like to give the bud­ding chef a job. Miller has now been with the restau­rant for about a year and the idea to pay it for­ward through his sig­na­ture dessert fit with other mis­sions the restau­rant’s owner is known for in the com­mu­nity.

“What we’ve dis­cov­ered based on our sales so far in the first six months of busi­ness based on those prof­its, we will be able to pay to grant a wish for one child a year through the profit of the sales of his Baklava desserts,” Wo­mack said. “So it’s a re­ally cool, groovy story about rec­i­proc­ity and pay­ing it for­ward.

“Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion Mid-South said they have never had a child who was in a po­si­tion to pay it for­ward be­cause, gen­er­ally speak­ing, they don’t sur­vive their con­di­tion. Things are set up in their mem­ory or in memo­riam, or in the es­tate of, and in the name of. Things are done in the child’s mem­ory to con­tinue grant­ing wishes for some­one else, but in this case, lit­er­ally Colton works five days a week here do­ing many other things than just make his Baklava, but con­tin­ues to make his Baklava and the money is go­ing to­ward Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion.”

Wo­mack said that pur­su­ing pas­sions and hon­or­ing peo­ple’s jour­neys in life is pa­trons of­ten for­get about the restau­rant in­dus­try.

“I al­ways tell my staff ev­ery day when we have meet­ings be­fore we open to please re­mem­ber, ev­ery­one who walks through that door is on a jour­ney,” he said. “Ev­ery­body is on their in­di­vid­ual jour­ney. You don’t know where they are in their life, just like they don’t know where you are. … We’re sup­posed to pro­vide the best for peo­ple and we’re sup­posed draw out the best in peo­ple. It’s sup­posed to be a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial ex­pe­ri­ence where you guys have the best time pos­si­ble.”

Per­son­ally, Wo­mack said be­ing able to cre­ate a place that will stand the test of time has been most im­por­tant to him in this ven­ture.

“I feel like I planned for a marathon here and de­signed a busi­ness that will stand the test of time — not just a pass­ing, fancy some­thing that will leave quickly, but some­thing that peo­ple will cue with, that will res­onate with them. That they’ll want to stay longer and have a good time,” he said.

“Daron will have a legacy to pass on to his chil­dren if this is done prop­erly. And for me, in spite of all the test­ing and all the ten­sion, it’s about that. It’s to give him a legacy to pass on to his fam­ily.”

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Randy Wo­mack

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