Michelangelo’s Italian Ristorante in downtown Conway has sold to a small chain owner, Carl Garrett.
Garrett operates Table Mesa Bistro with locations in Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Joplin, Mo.
“Someone came in and made us an offer we felt like we couldn’t walk away from,” said Michelangelo’s owner Mike Coats. “We felt it would also be a win-win for Conway. He’s a good operator, and we felt he would enhance downtown.”
Table Mesa Bistro serves “modern Latin” food, including steak, seafood, fajitas and salads.
Kim Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, said the restaurant is not the typical Mexican restaurant Conway is used to, but a whole new spin on Latin flavor.
“It’s going to have a freshness factor that Conway has been lacking now that Oak Street Bistro is gone,” she said. “They will bring an elegance that will be welcomed by Conway folks.”
Coats, who also owns and operates Mike’s Place a block away, opened Michelangelo’s in 2008.
Coats said Mike’s Place will undergo renovations to accommodate the “Friday night” crowd that was fond of Michelangelo’s and some of the restaurants most popular dishes will be incorporated into the Mike’s Place menu.
In the meantime, Coats encourages customers to come down and enjoy the foods they love ensuring the freshest quality.
Coats says reservations will be honored if parties have rooftop events planned at Michelangelo’s.
Coats will be operating the rooftop until November, and then booking responsibilities will be turned over to the new owner.
Mike’s Place is going to employ as many Michelangelo’s employees as they can, and Coats is working hard to make sure the other displaced employees find new jobs.
Coats’ two restaurants will go from a combined staff of about 110 employees to about 70.
“I‘ve set up some interviews with some other restaurants,” Coats said. “It was very important. I wouldn’t even start the conversation until Carl promised he would come down and set up a special day where he would interview just my staff first.”
The restaurant is closing after Sunday brunch on Aug. 25.
Michelangelo’s will be serving its entire menu on Aug. 25 at low prices for customers to enjoy. “We’re laying it all out for the last time,” Coats said.
Coats isn’t one to leave a note on the door letting customers and employees know his restaurant is closed. He’s planning a traditional New Orleans style funeral procession with a ceremony “to bring the spirit of tiramisu” to Oak Street one final time.
Following the last Sunday Brunch on Aug. 25, Rodney Block, a Grammy nominated trumpet player, will lead a jazz band down Front Street to Mike’s Place at 2 p.m. where customers can enjoy a sampling of the Mike’s Place menu including the classic New Orleans desserts beignets and bananas foster.
“We don’t go quietly into the night,” Coats said. “That’s not who we are.”
Coats will introduce Garrett to the community that afternoon and symbolically hand him the key to Michelangelo’s.
For the Michelangelo’s customers who love Sunday Brunch, Coats said he could see Mike’s Place occasionally having brunch on a Saturday or giving customers the option to schedule brunch for a special occasion.
With Michelangelo’s no longer occupying the corner of Oak and Front, Pasta Grill could see a rise in business.
“There is other Italian coming, so they won’t have that market to themselves for long,” Coats said, mentioning an Olive Garden to be here in the next year.
Coats said Michelangelo’s may have seen a decrease in business the first six to eight months after Pasta Grill opened, but business eventually resumed to normal.
“I think short term competition hurts, but long term it brings in a heavier density of people and that benefits everybody,”
Regardless of Pasta Grill being a few blocks away, Coats said he would have taken the offer from Garrett.
Two restaurants of the same genre may have a hard time operating in downtown Conway, Coats said, but the town is just scratching the surface for eclectic restaurants coming to downtown.
Williams said the owner of Table Mesa Bistro is very excited about Conway because of its diverse mix of retail, restaurants and late night options.
Coats wishes Garrett luck with his new restaurant, but not too much luck.
“I hope he has the second best restaurant in town,” he said.