It appears that you're using a severely outdated version of Safari on Windows. Many features won't work correctly, and functionality can't be guaranteed. Please try viewing this website in Edge, Mozilla, Chrome, or another modern browser. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused!Read More about this safari issue.
UPDATE: On July 29, 2023, it was announced that the business had bought the old Dixie Cafe location to be the new site of the Old South Restaurant.
An Arkansas icon, the Old South Restaurant in Russellville, was destroyed by fire on the morning of June 6, 2023. But the faith and strength of the owners and the spirit of the town pouring out their love for the oldest restaurant in Russellville remains strong after the embers cooled.
Owners Dale and Zach Summit watch as firefighters work to put out the fire at their restaurant.
Dale Summit and his son Zach, co-owners of Old South Restaurant, got the call and helplessly sat alongside Russellville Mayor Fred Teague and many employees who heard the call and raced to the restaurant to see their livelihoods go up in smoke. Only the exterior walls remain.
Owners Dale and Zach Summit survey the damage following the fire that destroyed Old South.
I am grateful to have Zach Summit as a family friend, so I recently sat down with him and asked the questions everyone was asking.
The Park Wife: Let’s get to the two questions you have been asked the most in the past weeks.
What caused the fire?
Zach Summit: We do not know. They are investigating, but we simply don’t know. We closed up as usual that night, and everything was fine.
Will you rebuild?
Zach Summit: Future plans are unsure. It has been a good nine years at Old South. Our life has come to a stop, and we have to find out how to restart it. We are doing a lot of soul-searching.
The Park Wife: Tell me how the community has responded.
Zach Summit: Russellville is just a kind, generous community. They have been so good to us. It is the best community we have ever been a part of. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the people of Russellville. People are continually stopping by if we are at the location sharing memories. Some of our regular morning coffee crew even sat up chairs and had coffee in the parking lot.
The Park Wife: How can people help?
Zach Summit: The community has been overwhelmingly supportive. The Mayor was not only with us when the restaurant was burning, but the next morning he was helping to get our employees what they needed to move forward. We have around 54 employees, and some of them have been here for years. I have worked with the Russ Bus over the past eight years, and they have stepped up in a big way, along with many local organizations planning fundraisers.
With the sudden loss of employment, the employees of Old South may need help with their rent and utilities. During this time, The Russ Bus is supporting their fellow community members by taking donations to help them weather this storm.
Donors may send checks to P.O. Box 10231, Russellville, AR 72812, with Old South in the memo line, visit their website, or drop donations at 3001 East H Street in the 1 Roof building.
Arkansas Real Estate Collective and Main Street Russellville are planning a benefit concert for employees of The Old South Restaurant. The concert is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 7 at Depot Park and will include food vendors, fundraising T-shirts and live music. The T-shirts will have an Old South design to them, and there will be a silent auction as well. For more information, click here.
A car show is set for July 8 from 9 a.m. -2 p.m. at the Pope County Fair Grounds. All proceeds will be donated to Old South and its employees. All make, model and types of cars, trucks and bikes are welcome. There will be food trucks, a bounce house for kids, numerous vendors, a silent auction and more. There will also be a donation box set up at registration for all cash donations. Parade to follow after the show. For more information, click here.
The Old South Restaurant has a famous garlic-flavored salad dressing. The true, real recipe is a secret and debated around town. Food writers often try to replicate it. Even my family connection could not get the exact recipe out of Zach. He said it was kind of close, but not exactly it. But it will have to do until they can make it again.
Add 1 quart of REAL Mayonnaise and thoroughly process until mixed well. Here is where the debate comes in. Made from scratch mayo? Zach would not say.
Viola, garlic dressing.
Put the dressing back in the mayonnaise jar and refrigerate immediately.
The restaurant was erected by the National Glass and Manufacturing Co. of Fort Smith in 1947 in just six days, using prefab sections for Russellville businessman Woody Mays to serve his motel. It was a hub for weary travelers in the early days, a stopping point along U.S. 64 before Interstate 40 became the fastest route between Oklahoma and Tennessee. Another diner was built from the same Old South kit at Fort Smith, but it was demolished in the 1970s. In 1999, Russellville’s Old South was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a classic example of an Art-Moderne diner. It was the last William Stell-designed Old South prototype restaurant and was known for its association as a place favored by Two Presidents and A King – Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and of course, the King, Elvis Presley, who would make frequent stops on his travels through the area. For more on the history of Old South, visit Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Fire photos courtesy of Old South staff via the Summit family.
Sign up for our weekly e-news.
Get stories sent straight to your inbox!
We select one featured photo per week, but we show many more in our gallery. Be sure to fill out all the fields in order to have yours selected.