Unknown to Grotto Chef/Founder Rodney Slane and Co-Owner Autumn Spencer at the time of this interview, they weren’t just finalists for the first Arkansas Food Hall of Fame People’s Choice Award, they are the winner! Opened in Eureka Springs in June 2015, read on to see what captured the support of their diners to make them winners.
By Brigette Williams :: Photography by Meredith Mashburn
How did you guys join together in the business? Rodney: It’s funny that you asked. (He chuckled) We’ve been long-time friends since the ninth grade, keeping track of each other and talking periodically through the years.
Autumn: Rodney actually convinced me to visit him in Eureka to check out the restaurant he was building. As you can imagine after not seeing him in over 10 years I was a little nervous.
Rodney: Nervous?!? LOL I was more nervous to show her the creation of a dream that I’ve had for many years.
Autumn: Oh, but the space was beyond beautiful. He had put so much work into his dream. I fell hard for his passion and drive – this was someone that could challenge me! He has an amazing entrepreneurial spirit that pushes him to create more and more. From there we learned each other, learned how to work and love together. I like to say we are “partners.” We are partners in business AND love. He is truly my soul mate.
What made the two of you open Grotto? I have worked at many prestigious restaurants. The experience that they would create is something that I wanted to be a able to give as well. Eureka has had a pull on me since I’ve visited even as a young child. I wanted to give Eureka Springs that experience of a relaxing, fun, great wine and most importantly the best of culinary enjoyment. It was time for me to move past the fear of flight and take off on my first adventure.
Are you two from Eureka Springs? If not, from where? Both originally from a small town in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, close to Tulsa. We have both moved to many different places over the years. Dallas, West Palm Beach, too many to list.
How did you decide on the type of cuisine and vibe of the restaurant? The process of my mind went in many directions. Many different ways, until I found a wood fired grill for $150. After I purchased it everything came together. It was the catalyst for the inspiration. Sometimes it’s one small thought or grill (laughing) that spurs a vision.
What’s your favorite items and why? Your favorite guests? Hand cut 30-ounce bone-in ribeye; the flavor of the beef and the way the grill infuses the meat with the soft oaky flavor is incredible. It’s simple yet beautiful. My favorite guests are the ones that are there for a dining experience. The ones that try something new or something unusual to them. The foodies.
What were your expectations of the restaurant? Rodney: With realistic thoughts and knowledge of business, I built the restaurant so I could run it completely on my own. I figured I would be slaving over the fire for years. I never would have expected it to be so successful so quickly.
How has the response been from the community? Everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive. We, as a community, try to support each other and help each other grow.
What are your future plans for the restaurant? Another location? Different restaurant? Future plans … well that is a broad question?!? Well, we are entrepreneurs so we just opened an event/wedding venue this year. We have had much talk about another GROTTO maybe in Tulsa? We also are working on, yes, another restaurant concept. My love of food continues with not just one vision! LOL
How does it feel to be a finalist for the first Food Hall of Fame? Completely indescribable! It’s an amazing feeling to be validated with people loving your creations and appreciating your dreams. Thank you for the overwhelming response and support.