Cotham’s is a Little Rock (Pulaski County) restaurant that began as a country store in Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties). That mercantile became a restaurant in the 1980s, and the owners eventually opened a second location in downtown Little Rock. Known for its large “hubcap” burgers, catfish, Mississippi Mud pie, and other southern comfort food, it has been visited by well-known politicians and celebrities. The original location in Scott, which had become a landmark, burned down in 2017, but the Little Rock Cotham’s continued operating.
Cotham’s mercantile was built in either 1912 or 1917, depending upon the source. For decades, it was a place where farmers and plantation owners could buy supplies. It also served for a time as a jail and a military commissary. The location was unique. The store in Scott was built on stilts on the edge of a bayou, and customers standing on the front porch had a wide view of the surrounding area. Though Cotham’s did not serve food at the time, the interior and exterior of the building were featured in the 1973 Burt Reynolds movie White Lightning.
It is unclear when the Cotham family bought the Scott location, and the owners did not serve food until 1984. The restaurant area of the building, nevertheless, quickly became popular. At the time, the owners were William (Bill) Herman Cotham and his wife, Carrolin Sue (Suzy) McCool Cotham. Bill, a graduate of Central High School in Little Rock, was the son of William Clayton Cotham, a store operator from the McGehee (Desha County) area. Bill and Suzy Cotham married in 1976, and she was hands-on when it came to running the store and restaurant.
When Cotham’s began food service, the menu was limited, but servings were generous. Cotham’s became a popular hangout for Arkansas politicians and locals alike. “Though the mercantile’s goods gave way to a full set of table and chairs over time,” food writer Kat Robinson wrote, “the store’s walls remained covered with sundry items and photographs from its past. A long counter with glass cabinet sat to the left from the entryway, packed with everything from elixirs and spices to undergarments and baseball hats. Mismatched ceiling fans circulated the air in the massive, wood-paneled room.” To help publicize the restaurant, in 1991, Suzy Cotham published a cookbook.
Despite its rustic appearance and surrounding farmland, Cotham’s became known as the place where the “Elite Meet to Eat.” Bill Clinton, who rarely passed up country cooking, was a fan of Cotham’s while governor and president—he even held a press conference at Cotham’s in 1995. David Pryor, Mike Beebe, George W. Bush, and Win Paul Rockefeller also patronized the restaurant over the years. In November 2009, the popular television show Man vs. Food filmed at Cotham’s. The host, Adam Richman, devoured a one-pound hubcap burger with a side of onion rings. Actors Geena Davis and Judge Reinhold have also visited the site.
In 1996, Cotham’s was bought by banker Larry Griffin and his nephew Jon Griffin. With the success of the Scott location—and aware that driving to Scott for hubcap burgers was inconvenient for many people—Griffin opened a second restaurant in downtown Little Rock. In October 1999, Cotham’s in the City, as it was called, first began serving food at 3rd Street and Victory, near the Arkansas State Capitol. In 2001, Griffin sold the Scott location to Danielle Lynch and Scotty McNair, the last owners of the original Cotham’s. Larry Griffin died in 2004.
On the night of Monday, May 29, 2017, a fire broke out at the century-old building in Scott. Locals claimed a “suspicious” person was seen on the front porch of the building before the blaze, but investigators did not find evidence of arson, and the cause of the fire was officially declared “undetermined.” Damage was total.
While Cotham’s in the City continues to thrive in the twenty-first century, attempts to open related restaurants have proven unsuccessful. In 2020, Cotham’s owner Erin Griffin (wife of Jon) opened Hubcap Burger Company on Cantrell Road in Little Rock. However, the restaurant—featuring longer hours than Cotham’s in the City—closed in June 2022, several months after a truck slammed into the building, causing major damage. The accident compounded problems stemming from existing staff shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cotham’s in the City is open only during lunchtime, but the staff members work full-time hours preparing food for the busy midday rush.
For additional information:
Donald, Leroy. “Everybody’s Business: Online Realtor Location Service Locates Itself at Train Station.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 1999.
Riddle, Brandon, and Emma Pettit. “Origin of Fire at Cotham’s Still Unclear; ‘Suspicious’ Person Reported on Porch Night of Blaze.” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 2, 2017. https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2017/jun/02/origin-of-fire-at-cotham-s-still-unclea/ (accessed December 9, 2022).
Robinson, Kat. “Cotham’s Mercantile, 1917–2017.” AY (March 2018): 44.
Colin Edward Woodward
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