Travis McConnell moves to Arkansas Fresh Bakery | Rock Candy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Travis McConnell moves to Arkansas Fresh Bakery

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 2:30 PM

click to enlarge ARKANSAS FRESH TEAM: (from l. to r.) Chris SantaCruz, sous chef; Paul Bax, line chef; Travis McConnell, executive chef. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • ARKANSAS FRESH TEAM: (from l. to r.) Chris SantaCruz, sous chef; Paul Bax, line chef; Travis McConnell, executive chef.

Just a few months ago, Ashton Woodward's Arkansas Fresh Bakery was just that—a bakery. Arkansas Fresh bread showed up on menus all over central Arkansas, elevating sandwiches and burgers and generally making life good for carb-lovers like myself. 

Not satisfied with that, Woodward launched Cocoa Rouge, a line of bite-sized Belgian-style chocolates that make Godiva look like the post-Valentine bargain bin at the Dollar Tree. Almost simultaneously with the launch of the chocolate line, Woodward also opened Arkansas Fresh Bakery Cafe in Bryant, a breakfast and lunch joint that debuted to rave reviews from nearly everyone who tried it — including your humble servant

Artisan chocolates, excellent bread—what else could folks want from Arkansas Fresh? Woodward hopes the answer to that question is "a butcher," and he's gone and snagged one of the premier names in Arkansas butchery, chef Travis McConnell of Butcher and Public. McConnell's been a bit of a journeyman, working the event-catering side of things since his long tenure at the Capital Hotel. He's also spent time in the past couple of years working with South on Main, and most recently he's taken the Butcher and Public name into a shared space with Donnie Ferneau's Good Food by Ferneau startup.

I spoke to Woodward last week, and the excitement about this new collaboration was evident in his voice. He said he had been trying to work with Travis for some time, and that the timing had finally fallen into place for the two to match their skills in a restaurant setting. To this end, Woodward says he envisions an expansion of the Arkansas Fresh Bakery Cafe to include a full butcher counter, a development that can only serve to make the Saline County cafe even more of a destination than it already is.

As for McConnell, he has no plans of abandoning the Butcher and Public name. He and Woodward are designing a full butchery and kitchen at the bakery's Prickett Road location, and McConnell will run Butcher and Public as a catering and event company while also managing the Arkansas Fresh Cafe. He says that he and Woodward have been discussing a collaboration for about a year now, and it was only now that things finally fell into place. 

"I'm so excited to have a place to call my own," he says, adding that although he is bringing in some new ideas, he has "a lot of respect for what the crew has been doing so far at the cafe." 

Asked about his time in Argenta, McConnell says that while he had a good run, he thinks that this opportunity to work with Arkansas Fresh is a unique one that will allow him to do things he's wanted to do for awhile. He's still splitting time between Ferneau's Argenta store and the Bryant location, but expects to have his facilities up and running full time in Saline county some time in May.

Best of luck to chef McConnell—I personally can't wait to see what he cooks up in Bryant.

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