Alix Meacham, second generation owner of Meacham’s Family Restaurant in Ash Flat flips some food on the grill. Therestaurant has placed in the top four in the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. She hopes to honor late father, Troy, who es-tablished the restaurant in 1979. The overall winner will be announced March 6. Below, waitress Amy Wiles waits on longtime Meacham’s customers Sandra and Elbert Layne. They enjoyed the popular hamburger steaks on Feb. 10.
By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
The smell of homemade food permeates the air even before one enters Meacham’s Family Restaurant in Ash Flat. The the difficult decision of whether or not to order the famous hand made onion rings or any of the other homemade specialities the restaurant is known for must be made. It is no wonder this long time family business has man-aged to not only successfully keep their doors open for nearly 45 years, but also to be named to the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame’s top four three times. This year, second generation owner Alix McDonald is excited that the third time may be actually be a charm. She hopes Meacham’s can bring home the coveted title to one of the area’s longest standing restaurants. McDonald spoke to the SRC after their nomination about the reason Meacham’s has survived and thrived – despite countless other restaurants closing since they have opened. Two things, besides the restaurant crew’s longevity were something her late father, founder Troy Meacham, credited with its survival…the quality and consistency of their food. Alix and Meacham’s longtime crew, the majority of who have been with them for25 years, know what they are doing and work seamlessly as a team. “You come here one year on your way to vacation and come back three years later and your food is the same. ”Troy was never about self promotion. “Daddy always said that word of mouth is the best advertising.” Alix felt a little bit guilty because she posted the nomination on her personal social media page, not the Meacham’s page. “The last thing on his bucket list was to be in the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame and by gosh, if we didn’t so close before he passed away. This year, when I found out we were on the finalist list, I just did a very minute amount of push- in case people didn’t know about the Food Hall of Fame.” She said doing things as he would are very import-ant to her. Following the direction he provided Alix for the restaurant before he passed away from cancer in2021 is something she takes very seriously. Her mother, Roberta, also worked side by side with Troy for decades in the family restaurant. She passed away from cancer in 2016.While Alix’s sister Lorrella has worked in the restaurant for generations, Alix was not blessed with any restaurant experience, and was living in Jonesboro with her family at the time her mother passed away. Alix and her family moved to the area in 2017, to help her father in the business. “My dad mentored me and my husband, Colt, for just over five years and taught us how to do everything to his standards. Those are the only standards I know,” she explained. All the food served at Meacham’s is hand cut, nothing is pre-battered or frozen, as the restaurant doesn’t even have a walk in freezer. The food is always fresh. Alix’s husband’s grandmother owned a Jonesboro based restaurant for 20 years. So, restaurant work and cooking “genes” are in the couple’s blood. Colt arrives at the restaurant at 4 a.m. to start pre-paring food for the day. He begins by making the soups from scratch. The clam chow-der is an area favorite. He also must knead the chicken fried steaks, start the pork tenderloins and roasts. “Every day we start out with afresh batch of food,” Alix explained. “We are one of the only restaurants who gets five deliveries a week. That way we continue to rotate everything out the restaurant in about 48-72 hours. We never have any food that has been in the restaurant more than three days. ”Many ask with their marked success why they do not expand. “Daddy said if you get bigger, you have to hire more employees. You have to train them to your standards. Good luck keeping them. The more people working, the more expectations there are. The larger your restaurant gets, the more chance you have of failing,” she explained of the wisdom her father left as part of his legacy. Meacham’s building is paid for, allowing them to have lower overhead. For the 40thyear anniversary in 2019, her father allowed Alix to refresh the look of the front of the restaurant. She was sure to state that it was only cosmetic, and very minor. He still held the major role in its appearance. She only changed the paneling but left the decor which her father handpicked, including drawings from her grandmother. Meacham’s was first a laundry mat, then it became BJ’s fine foods in the mid to late70s. Troy bought the restaurant on July 28, 1979. By that time he had decades of cooking skill under his belt, as he began when he was just 14.Troy also cooked and ran the Elks Lodge in the 90s while still owning and operating the restaurant. Meacham’s is most famous for their hand cut and bread-ed onion rings. The monstrous rings are a challenge to complete, even for the biggest eater. Another dish Meacham’s is known for is their butterfly shrimp. Each day they peel and butterfly8-10 pounds of fresh jumbo shrimp. They are lightly hand battered and fried, never dipped in pre-made panko like most restaurants. Hand-cut and breaded mushrooms are often a stand alone meal for locals with Meacham’s paired with their made from scratch rendition of ranch. Alix explained her dad grew up around hotels and that is what gave birth to Meacham’s cream sauce that is highly requested. Since Troy grew up with French style cooks, Meacham’s cream sauce his version of the French Bechamel sauce, and can never be called “gravy, ”which is what many locals refer to the rich sauce that tops their famously large chicken filet and mashed potatoes. “It was against dad’s rules,” she laughed. She called her dad’s style of cooking “Hillbilly French. It is like gourmet dump cook. We are about as gourmet as you are going to get. We are just measuring with handfuls. He taught my husband and I all of his recipes and we just keep making them. ”What Alix may have lacked in cooking and restaurant skills when coming to Meachams in2017, she was never lacking in people skills, having worked in retail. Her quirky personality and often zany clothing choices are a re-flection of her loving and friendly attitude that al-ways makes visitors feel welcome at the restaurant. Alix is very flexible she said she can cook, fry cook, cook on the stovetop, wash dishes, bus and wait tables. “My job is to the job of whoever can’t come in. I don’t have extra people with a staff of12,” she explained. Alix, much like her father, never takes any credit for the success of the restaurant. She gives credit to her sister and her mother’s bestfriend, Lorella, for stepping up and being like a mother to her and helping her when she has difficult days. “I really have a feeling this year is the year. it is the last thing on Dad’s bucket list. I know he’s not here, but if we can get it, that’s the whole bucket list,” she exclaimed with pride. When told he will likely be smiling down on her from heaven, she said, “Actually, I think he would be frowning and saying, [in her Troy Meacham voice] ‘Yea you wouldn’t have done it without me,’” she laughed. “That means I love you and I am proud for you in Daddy language,” she continued. “He was a great dad, a great mentor and we are not going to change anything. We are going to hope and pray that this year is the year. I can’t wait, he deserved it. Daddy specifically deserves it. He put so much time and effort into making this place great. The only thing we (our team) do is maintain. He taught me how todo what he did. ”Her staff includes her sister, Lorella Meacham, Nelson and Julia Armstead, Jan Ratliff, Larry Campbell, Mike Dailey, Matt Strauser, Johnny Callahan, and Tracey Bales, who is a professional pastry cook. She took over when Jeremy Harmon, who had worked there for 24 years went into his own business, “With-out him, Daddy and Lori, I wouldn’t know what I was doing,” she explained. Amy Wiles has also been with Meacham’s for many years. Alix hired Sklar Casey, the youngest employee to shadow Amy Wiles, who recently returned to work after cancer to ensure she doesn’t have to overdo it and suffer a health setback. Dasha Nikulina, is another important part of the Meacham’s crew. She joined the crew after Roberta’s death. Alix said her positive attitude always made her Daddy happy and she has become an equally valued member of the Meacham’s family. Alix’s love for her crew is evident. She never wants anyone to think Meacham’s is about her. “The people behind the scenes are who make it happen. I am the laziest one here. Other than that this, is a well oiled machine,” she explained. “The restaurant sustains itself. It pays for its employees. Anytime it ever makes a profit, I give everybody a raise. That is my family, they raised me.” Despite her modes-ty, Alix does work hard at Meacham’s and when the doors are closed on Mon-days, she is doing prep work for the week and constantly greeting customers with her smile and bubbly personality. She and her husband have two sons who attend school at Highland. The winners will be selected by the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame Committee, A division of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, and then announced at a hybrid, in-person and virtual ceremony to be held at Central Arkansas Library System’s Ron Robinson Theater on March 6, 2023.Alix will attend in per-son if she is able, if not, she will attend virtually. To be named to the list is an honor in itself, but three times making it to the top four is a huge honor. Whether Meacham’s finishes overall or not, one thing is certain… the fame the restaurant has gained through four and a half decades of fine food will continue. There is no doubt that the very mouths of all who sample their fine food will continue to be part of Troy’s legacy.. Proving with the same mouths, that word of mouth advertising is always best.