It is time to get to know the heart and soul behind every restaurant experience, the server. Here’s our Q&A with Cara Clem of Maddie’s Place.
How long have you been at Maddie’s Place?
I was surprised to find out that it’s been 10 years. I have been saying 10 years for at least the last five years!
Where did you previously work?
I worked at my family’s car dealerships for years and years. Then, after we closed, I began to work at The Villa. I stayed there for seven years until they closed.
Do you generally work the daytime shift at Maddie’s Place?
I work both day and night.
I have to ask: As good as the food is at Maddie’s, for someone like yourself who has worked there for many years, do you still eat the food or are you a little tired of looking at it?
I do still eat the food. The salmon dish is my favorite meal, but I also love the chicken salad. The gumbo is always delicious, but I have to eat it on the not-so-spicy days. I have definitely burned myself on some things but never for that long.
If I’m bringing a dear friend to the restaurant for the first time, what should they order? And don’t be bashful. We’re hungry.
First, the grilled oysters, you can do six or 12. I always say 12 because they’re so good and it’s just a better deal. For the main course, go with the grilled salmon and the ribeye. The salmon has garlic grits and bacon braised Brussels sprouts. The ribeye is 16 ounces and the plate is fully loaded. The green beans are smothered with bacon, butter and cream, and the ribeye comes marinated with homemade Worcestershire. There’s just enough spice to bring the flavor of the meat out. The redfish and barbeque shrimp and grits are definitely good choices, too. For dessert, get the bread pudding!
I’ve noticed that when you’re working, you’re all business. Fast and efficient. Has that always been your style or is this mainly a product of working at Maddie’s?
Maddie’s Place is zero to full in 20 seconds. I’ve never worked at a restaurant like it. At The Villa, we had big sections and a lot of big groups, so I learned to be fast there and hopefully through the years fine-tune the speed with efficiency.
What’s one of the best parts about working at Maddie’s?
There are so many things that I love about Maddie’s. The customers are absolutely wonderful, but I also love my crew. We all care about Maddie’s and the customers, and as a team, we have the same goals. The kitchen is so patient, and I truly appreciate all the hard work they do. The Deloneys are such a great family and have really made it a great place to work.
The restaurant is kind of known for allowing diners to make fun modifications to dishes. What is one you’re particularly fond of?
Oh no! Brian used to cringe every time I’d get on the computer because I would be writing a novel of mods! So, of course, the dishes are paired perfectly and really don’t need anything different. But I do appreciate that they will let you sub the vegetables out. If you are not a fan of greens, for example, you can get green beans. A lot of people have dietary restrictions these days and it’s nice to know that no matter who is there, we will get something you can eat. If you can’t eat bacon, the kitchen will do Brussels sprouts without bacon or the white bean and tasso soup can be done without the tasso.
Do you believe in the expression, “The customer is always right?”
I definitely go into the situation believing the customer is right. I can speak for all of us when I say we try to fix whatever the problem may be. I know how hard the kitchen works and how quickly they will try to cater to a customer’s needs.
Throughout the pandemic, what has been the biggest challenge as it pertains to your job?
Ordering anything! Something is always missing from our liquor order, and I know the kitchen has been having major issues getting all their items. The scariest part of the pandemic has been trying to find employees. Brian was close to closing down for lunches because we were short a line cook and dishwasher. Brittni Hill, the lunch chef with Brian, and I were washing dishes between tables and Brian would do several loads on his way out each day. Everyone stepped up and worked harder, and we are now almost fully staffed.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen take place at Maddie’s?
The crazies are probably best kept as that, but the neatest thing was when The Stereotypes sang for a couple of lady customers. The Stereotypes are an acapella group that was performing at The Rep several years ago. The ladies thought they were dreamy. By the time I got done asking all the ladies questions, the Stereotypes got up and started to sing to them. It was so beautiful, and the ladies were so happy.
Do you have your regulars at the restaurant?
I do have regulars, and I love them all! They are truly so kind and amazing and thoughtful. It makes me speechless sometimes. They definitely make my job worth it, and I am so very grateful. I even have some that I met at The Villa. We have a fun environment and try to make everyone feel comfortable, whether it is their first or 100th time at Maddie’s.
Enough about work. Let’s switch gears a bit. Are you from Little Rock?
I was born in Fort Smith and have lived in Little Rock since I was 2 years old, so, many, many years ago.
What’s one thing about yourself that might surprise folks?
I have two beautiful, funny and smart little girls. They are the reason I work as hard and as much as I do. Being their mom is my best accomplishment.
It’s Sunday and you have the entire day to yourself. What’s your plan?
If it’s me all alone and not with my girls, I am most likely in the yard. I have a veggie garden and all my little sun-babies. It’s my stress relief in a way. If my girls are around, we are usually doing something outside. We hike a lot and try to rock climb when we can. Arkansas is truly beautiful, and they are doing so much to fix or create trails all over. I can’t think of a more perfect afternoon than going exploring with my girls.