A local restaurant that has become a Fayetteville staple in a relatively short amount of time will soon be under new management.
Leverett Lounge, the casual fine dining restaurant opened by entrepreneurs Hannah Withers and Ben Gitchel in 2017 in a former Pizza Hut building at 737 N. Leverett Ave., will soon be operated by fellow longtime restaurant vets, Reese Roberts and Corey Mccain. The couple will take the helm of the business from the original owners early this week.
Roberts and Mccain, who both spent nearly a decade at Bordinos on Dickson Street, said they were charmed by Leverett Lounge from the first time they visited the restaurant as customers four years ago.
“The first time we ate there we were cracking up, we were like ‘Who did this?'” Roberts said. “This is exactly the type of restaurant we would open if we started one from scratch. Of course it was Hannah and Ben.
“Hannah and I have gotten to know each other a lot throughout the pandemic, and it’s been an honor to work with her and become a friend,” Roberts said. “It’s really been beautiful how everything has worked out, and honestly we couldn’t be more delighted.”
Roberts ran the front of house and operations as general manager at Bordinos for years before moving on last year during the pandemic to focus on the Fayetteville Independent Business Alliance and other interests, and Mccain served as executive chef since Jan. 2020.
The couple said at least initially, not much will change when they officially take over the restaurant next week. Leverett Lounge is known for its ever-evolving menu.
“We don’t plan on changing anything substantially off the bat,” Roberts said. “Our plan to start off is just to let it operate for 60-90 days, which is about the time they’d normally change the menu anyway, and make some adjustments.”
“I don’t think we’ll change much in terms of the appeal of Leverett Lounge,” Mccain added. “I think we’re just going to kind of elaborate on it. It’s already got a great base, and it fits our style already.”
One thing that won’t be going away anytime soon, if ever, are popular dishes like the Korean Fried Chicken, the Mel’s Dinner, and others, Mccain said.
“We’ll answer the question that everyone is going to have, and that’s that the KFC isn’t going anywhere,” Roberts said.
“The KFC. The Mel’s dinner. Those are staples,” Mccain added.
Mccain is, however, excited about the flexibility the restaurant will offer him, and the ability to get creative at times with the seasonally-changing menu and daily specials from time to time.
“I am going to have a lot of fun,” he said.
Beverages have also been an important part of the experience at Leverett Lounge, and the craft cocktails, and curated wine and beer list will also remain central to that experience, Roberts said.
Mccain said that he and Roberts both appreciate a nice tequila, so those options could be expanded. Roberts added she plans to add more non-alcoholic “mocktail” options to the menu over time.
The decor will remain eclectic, though Mccain’s six-year-old daughter Frankie has a few notes.
“Frankie is not so sure about Boris the boar and Alexander the peacock. We have no intention of getting rid of either of them, but she says the chickens and the “naked chef” can stay,” Roberts said.
Roberts and Mccain hope that most of the staff will remain as well.
“Everybody that we’ve spoken to so far, we’ve made it clear that we are really supportive of any move they want to make,” she said. “We’re really centered on people being individuals and being able to have a healthy lifestyle. So far, we haven’t had anybody say they don’t want to stay.”
Both Roberts and Mccain come from hospitality families.
“My grandmother owns Rosemont Bed & Breakfast in downtown Little Rock,” Roberts said. “My mom worked at the original Juanitas and the original Cheers in the Heights. She and I worked together at Scallions and Cheers in Maumelle during my teenage years. My dad has worked in many kitchens over the years.
“Corey’s parents owned Deli on the Commons in Oklahoma City when he was young,” Roberts said. “He moved to Fayetteville as a teenager where his mom owned the Crystal Star Cafe on Dickson Street. Corey’s mother has been the General Manager of Brewski’s for twenty-two years. My mother currently runs a cafe for Compass Group in the L’Oreal building in downtown Little Rock.”
Withers said the pandemic led them to re-evaluate how much time they spend at work. The two will continue to operate Maxine’s Tap Room on Block Avenue in Fayetteville.
“COVID, like it has for everyone, has made us reevaluate our work/life balance,” Withers said. “Ben and I feel that we have done some really good work in this restaurant and in our community. We had the honor of working with wonderful coworkers who are very proud to have been a part of this place we made together. And we are honored to have worked with them. Many of our patrons have become our friends and family. And we look back on the last four years as a success.”
Withers said she believes that Roberts and Mccain are just the right people to help build on that success going forward.
“This restaurant deserves the creativity and energy of some younger folks who can love it,” she said. “We think that Reese and Corey have the skills across the board to continue to make Leverett Lounge a cornerstone in Fayetteville. And we’re grateful they see how special this place is. We’re excited for them to give it a new chapter.
“Ben and I are also excited to spend a little less time working together. And a little more time traveling,” she said.