Courtesy of Joshua Garland
The Hot Springs Sentinel reported in February that Chef Joshua Garland, executive chef and owner of Hot Springs breakfast gem Best Cafe and Bar, is in the process of renovating the building at 901 Central Ave. for a new speakeasy-style restaurant called DONS Southern Social.
Garland and his director of operations, Fatima Alvirde, were hopping back and forth between restaurants when we caught up last week. He said they are about halfway through the build-out, and this week they were finishing up the electrical, mechanical and plumbing, as well as hanging drywall and building the bar. The building used to be occupied by architecture firm Douglas A. Arnold and Associates.
Garland said the space is about 4,500 square feet between two floors.
“The space is beautiful, man,” he said. “As soon as I saw it, my first idea was to open up the entire wall, put in huge windows and really open up the restaurant.”
Courtesy of Joshua Garland
From 3-5 p.m. guests for the bar will enter through a phone booth entry on the side of the building, Garland said. The entry for full dinner service will be through an art gallery, which will also include a secret entrance to dining room. The art gallery will feature the work of local artists, Garland said.
DONS is an acronym for “doing overtime no sleeping,” a name for a group Garland was a part of in Las Vegas while attending culinary school.
“When I was in culinary school of a lot of young chefs and people in the culinary industry used to get together and brainstorm ideas about restaurants and new menu items and things of that nature,” Garland said. Garland said he was really close with that group of chefs and still keeps up with them. In fact, a member from Las Vegas is the bar manager at Best Cafe. Garland said another member from Washington D.C. is being flown in next month to be the sous chef at DONS.
A Little Rock native, Garland moved to Hot Springs to head up Best Cafe after cooking stints in Alaska, Singapore, Martha’s Vineyard and Vero Beach, Florida. He hired Alvirde to be his director of operations after working with her at a resort in Florida. Best Cafe has been a part of the historic Best Court motor court since it opened in 1933. It was closed for a period before Garland and Alvirde reopened the restaurant in March of 2021. It quickly became a Central Arkansas breakfast destination, drawing the likes of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and actress Shailene Woodley. Garland purchased Best Cafe from former owners Mark and Rhonda McMurry in February of 2022.
“I’m extremely grateful for the cafe and its success,” Garland said. “I had no idea it would grow into what it’s grown into. I owe a lot of that to the staff and to Fatima. They created a culture that is very inviting, and the food part for me is very easy, but to actually create that service is the true test I feel like for most people.”
Garland said he hopes to have a soft opening for DONS in April and the grand opening is slated for the first week of May. The menu is still in development, but Garland said it will lean heavily on Southern cuisine with a mix of other cuisines he’s learned over the years from his travels.
“I want to keep dishes that people in this town are used to but elevate them just a little bit and have a twist to them,” he said.