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If it ain't broke, don't fix it 

Home-cooking winner Homer's enters its third decade of dishing up meat 'n' three.

click to enlarge HOMEY AT HOMER'S: The plate lunch eatery on Roosevelt has been feeding fans since 1986.
  • HOMEY AT HOMER'S: The plate lunch eatery on Roosevelt has been feeding fans since 1986.

Though many have tried, the classic American diner just can't be faked. There's more to it than just round barstools, red-checked tablecloths and sweet tea. A great diner is as much about history as it is about artful plate lunches and waitresses who call everybody "honey." One Little Rock joint that seems steeped in that greasy, unpurchaseable history is Homer's, the legendary Little Rock plate lunch place at 2001 W. Roosevelt Road. Opened in 1986 by the late Homer Connell and his wife, Remy, the restaurant's basic formula of hearty, no-nonsense home cooking and friendly service hasn't changed much in the past 31 years, and that appears to be just how their customers like it. The unassuming concrete pillbox of a restaurant is packed with people from all walks of life, from accountants to truckers, most lunch hours during the week. The mojo radiated by the original is strong enough that it was shared five years ago with a popular spinoff, Homer's West, in the Galleria Shopping Center at 9700 N. Rodney Parham Road.

Though Little Rock restaurants seem to bloom and fade quicker than the spring daffodils, Homer's has thrived on a basic formula of big portions, plenty of options, daily plate lunch specials and one of the friendliest waitstaffs in the city. Homer Connell's son David started Homer's West. Unlike the original on Roosevelt, which is only open for breakfast and lunch during the week, the Rodney Parham incarnation is open seven days a week and offers dinner options, a full bar and a patio for outdoor dining. Other than dinner entrees like steaks and fish, Connell said, the tried-and-true menu at Homer's West is basically the same as at Homer's East: big burgers, sandwiches, plate lunches and a long slate of veggie options.

"We offer a little bit more variety than most restaurants," Connell said. "I think in a day and age when restaurants are getting simpler with their menus, we still offer different specials daily and we also offer a variety of burgers, sandwiches and salads. We have a little bit more of a diverse menu than most restaurants do nowadays. That's unique, in my opinion."

Connell said that while other restaurants might get caught up in appealing to a more blue-collar or white-collar crowd, Homer's has been lucky enough to bring what he calls both the paper-napkin and linen-napkin crowd. "We're obviously paper-napkin, but we're half blue-collar and half-white collar," he said. "We get politicians, lawyers, but then we get construction workers and truck drivers in there. We get all types. When I opened up Homer's West about five years ago, we got into the family crowd a bit more."

Connell believes the secret to the longevity of the original Homer's has a lot to do with customer loyalty and the low turnover rate among the waitresses and kitchen staff, some of whom, he said, have been there long enough to raise kids and put them through college on their salaries. That low turnover creates both a consistency in the food and in the relationships forged between employees and diners. Connell said some customers have eaten at Homer's East several times a week for years. "Our customers are more like family," he said. "We have a lot of customers that eat with us regularly. Not just once a month, once every couple months. They eat with us weekly. They come in every day to check on our staff. They kind of develop a family relationship."

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