The opening of the Fayetteville's Greenhouse Grille was one of those rare instances in the restaurant business in which inspiration met pent-up demand and an institution was born. Founders Jerrmy Gawthrop and Clayton Suttle were inspired by the restaurants they'd visited in other parts of the country, and they wanted a restaurant back home that was similar to what they'd found in Oregon, Colorado and similar locales. That meant something focused on using as much organic and local food as possible and taking a sustainable approach on everything from the hand soap to the hamburger.
The restaurant, which opened in 2006, was an instant success, with a line out the door on the first day. In about three years, they'd outgrown the confines of their original location and moved down the street a couple of blocks to a much larger building, one that is surrounded by an ever-expanding array of hoop houses, gardens and, yes, greenhouses.
No less an authority than "Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food" author Michael Pollan — in town last year to speak at the Walton Arts Center — proclaimed that Greenhouse Grille "gets it." He told the blog Aftertaste that the restaurant has "become the locus of the food movement in that community."
That's apparent to folks in Northwest Arkansas and those in the Little Rock area, too. The restaurant won and came in runner-up in several Readers Choice categories this year. The Times has twice reviewed the place, rhapsodizing on both occasions about the food, which is an adventurous mix of classics and new twists with a menu that is heavy on the vegetables (something no doubt appreciated by Pollan, whose edict to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," can be easily adhered to at Greenhouse Grille).
"Obviously, it's fairly old news in San Francisco, New York, Chicago — they've been doing this for decades," Gawthrop said of the local/organic/sustainable approach. "But here in middle America it's still an up-and-coming trend. We just saw the need for it. I had very little restaurant background. I'd worked in some and had a little catering company, but as far as opening a restaurant we were winging it."
That learning-on-the-job approach has certainly worked out well. In fact, plans are in the works to open a Greenhouse Grille in Bentonville.
"It's humbling," Gawthrop said of the restaurant's success. "I'm so thankful we're still doing it, but it does require a lot of work."