The Keet Family’s JTJ restaurant group is bringing Waldo’s Chicken & Beer, a fast casual restaurant with a local beer program, a full bar and two drive-thru lanes, to North Little Rock in the former Johnny Carino’s location at 4221 Warden Road.
Waldo’s Chicken & Beer originated in Nashville and is a Fresh Hospitality concept created by Mark Waldo, a friend of the Keet family.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, of which the Keet family own eight in Arkansas, is also under the Fresh Hospitality umbrella, said Tommy Keet, Jim Keet’s oldest son and business partner and the leader of the Waldo’s project.
“Mark Waldo is a friend of ours and Michael Bodnar is the head of Fresh Hospitality — he is my mentor,” Keet said. “He and my father have been great friends for over 40 years since they were rivals in the Wendy’s business on who was the best franchisee in the late ’70s, so they’ve been great friends for a long time. We actually partnered with them to take a piece of the [Waldo’s] franchise — it’s not even a franchise yet, it’s more of a license group, but the Keet family is a part of the brand company now. So we’re committed to helping this thing grow in a big way. Right now there are three under construction, two in Nashville and then ours under contract where we take the building over on Jan. 2.”
Fast casual chicken themed restaurants have become ubiquitous in recent years. What sets Waldo’s apart, Keet said, is fire roasted rotisserie chicken to go along with fried options and an expansive beer program that will feature several local varieties.
“We’re working on the floor plan right now, but we’ll have a minimum of 12 but as many as 24 beers on tap,” Keet said. “We’ll obviously have some domestics because people still want their Bud Lights, and I respect that. But the majority of our drafts will be reserved for local craft brews. So it’s going to be an interesting mixture where you can really get whatever you want.”
Customers will be able to order from the queue or take a seat at the bar where full service will be available. “So, fast casual with a bar,” Keet said.
Keet said they considered remodeling Carino’s, but determined the best thing for the brand moving forward is to build a prototype store for future locations.
“So we’re actually going to bulldoze the old Johnny Carino’s,” Keet said. The site plan isn’t complete, but the building is estimated to be 3,200 square feet with a 650 foot square foot patio in front of the restaurant, along with a double drive-thru lane, Keet said.
Greg O’ Gary from Keet O’ Gary construction will be doing the build and Keet said they’re also working with Matt Galbraith of RPPY Architects. “We have a budget in mind of what we think we should be able to build these for in the future, so Greg is helping us hit that budget and be conscious of every dollar we spend and how we can really do these price effectively,” Keet said. The target date for Waldo’s is June 2021. It will be the fourth restaurant the Keet’s have opened during the pandemic.
“I guess we’ve been gluttons for punishment,” Keet said.
They opened their eighth Taziki’s location at 15,000 Cantrell Road in March on the day that dining rooms were shut down.
In June they opened their first Waldo’s location in Tulsa. Keet said both restaurants have done well and credits the drive-thru and also the curbside availability at Taziki’s.
In August the Keet’s opened Cypress Social, a destination restaurant located in the old Cock of the Walk space in Maumelle.
“Casual dining right now has been hit the hardest with COVID,” Keet said, “but Cypress Social is such a big location that we were kind of well positioned to weather the storm for the next few months because we can still get a decent amount of people in there but still maintain great social distance.” Cypress Social is an 8,000 square foot building with an additional 2,000 square feet of outdoor deck space.
“Petit & Keet has been a little slower, there’s no way around it,” Keet said. “Our bread and butter for November and December has been Christmas parties and all those caterings, and Christmas parties are gone, so that’s been disappointing. And that’s not an indictment on the laws or regulations because I think they’re as fair as they can be. Let’s just try to make it through and everyone support each other for the next few months.”