Franke’s Cafeteria was established by C. A. Franke in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1924. It is widely recognized as a culinary institution in the city and is one of the oldest restaurants in Arkansas.
After leaving the military, C. A. Franke opened a doughnut shop in 1919 on West Capitol Avenue and then a bakery at 111 West 3rd Street in 1922. After determining that bakeries would soon spread and start competing with his own, he sold the bakery to Safeway and switched to the cafeteria business. He opened the first Franke’s Cafeteria in 1924 at 115 West Capitol.
Since the 1920s, the cafeteria has seen four generations of Franke family members take the helm of the business. C. A. Franke’s son William J. Franke took over in 1967, and his son Bill K. Franke began overseeing the business in 1983, alongside his wife, Carolyn; their daughter Christen Franke oversees a big part of the day-to-day management of the cafeteria.
Franke’s has had several locations over the years. In addition to the original location on West Capitol (which closed in 1960), Franke’s operated a separate dining room at 511 Louisiana Street (opening shortly after 1924) and had restaurants in Little Rock’s University Mall (from 1968 to 2007) and at McCain Mall (from 1972 to 1992) in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). At other times, there were Franke’s Cafeterias in both Hot Springs (Garland County) and Fort Smith (Sebastian County).
Until 2019, Franke’s had two locations, both in Little Rock: a lunchtime cafeteria (Franke’s Downtown) and accompanying sandwich facility (“Sack It” by Franke’s) that opened in 1989 in the Regions Bank Building (formerly the First Commercial Bank Building) on West Capitol, and the main location (Franke’s Market Place) on Rodney Parham Road, which serves food non-stop from 10:45 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week. However, in early September 2019, Franke’s closed its downtown location, though the sandwich facility remained opened.
All the food at Franke’s served is made from scratch throughout the day. Bill Franke explained that Franke’s methods are more work intensive than those employed by a standard national restaurant franchise, therefore requiring more employees. The two Franke’s locations employ approximately sixty workers, both full-time and part-time. Many employees tend to be long-term; one server, Rufus Whitmore, began working at Franke’s more than sixty years ago.
Roast beef remains the top seller, although the hand-fried okra is popular as well. The eggplant casserole and egg custard pie are local favorites, in addition to a sweet coleslaw and full array of desserts such as pie and strawberry shortcake. A wide assortment of fruit salads and fruit juices is also available. Franke’s has received praise in local, regional, and national media, including the Zagat guide, which rated Franke’s Karo Nut Pie as the best dessert in Arkansas in 2015. In 2018, Franke’s was inducted into the second class of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.
For additional information:
“50 States, 50 Desserts.” Zagat. https://www.zagat.com/b/50-states-50-desserts (accessed March 8, 2018).
Franke’s Cafeteria. http://frankescafeteria.com/ (accessed March 8, 2018).
Franke’s Cafeteria Records. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Harrison, Eric E., and Nyssa Kruse. “Franke’s Cafeteria Downtown Closes.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 6, 2019, pp. 1B, 8B.
Ragsdale, John G. “Franke’s Cafeteria: A Little Rock Tradition.” Pulaski County Historical Review 56 (Summer 2008): 55–57.
David J. Ragsdale
Lone Star College–Kingwood
Last Updated: 09/05/2019