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You know a restaurant is well established in the community when there are off-menu items named for some of its customers.
Such is the case with The Cookie Basket in downtown Searcy, where the staff makes items like “The Kim Salad” and “The Cora Plate” available to its most loyal fans. The Cookie Basket has long been a popular lunch destination since it opened in the late ‘80s, known for its daily specials, sandwiches and salads, each accompanied by a cookie in flavors that include iced lemon, chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle and iced strawberry.
So owner Jessie Hohenstein had a big decision to make when she considered merging operations between The Cookie Basket and Frozen Delite, arguably one of the best-known and oldest creameries in the state, which opened in 1947 on Race Avenue, later relocating to Benton Street.
Jessie purchased Frozen Delite in 2015 after working there for 10 years. Frozen Delite – also known as “Frozen D’s” – was a popular locale known for its shakes, burgers and plate lunch specials. But she and her husband, Brent, didn’t own the building. “Our ultimate goal was to find a location we could buy, to own our own spot,” she says. “Downtown started booming, with art murals and Beats & Eats [a monthly festival providing an avenue for artisans, musicians and entrepreneurs to share their craft]. We ran into the previous owner of The Cookie Basket, and he wanted to sell. Doors started opening up, and God made the way for us to be here.”
The merged restaurant formally opened June 11, 2018 as The Cookie Basket: Your Downtown Delite. Jessie combined menus from the two iconic lunch spots and has added some new features that have quickly taken off with locals and out-of-towners alike.
Chief among them is the Delite Jar, a shake served in a mason jar. One feature flavor is “The King” – hot fudge, peanut butter, banana and whipped cream. It is presented with a whole banana atop the jar, which is dipped in hot fudge with chopped peanuts along the rim. The shake itself is reminiscent of a popular Frozen Delite combination – chocolate, peanut butter and banana. Jessie says the cheesecake jar is most popular, but all sell well. There are now six flavors and combinations, also including Rice Krispie Treat and Joy Jar, the latter of which is a collaboration with Joyful Macaron, another local business.
Jessie says customers have driven in from Paragould, Pocahontas and Hot Springs because they have seen pictures of the Delite Jar, usually on social media.
Locals continue coming for the cookies, for which Jessie has gone back to the original recipes, as well as hand-patted burgers, homemade onion rings and rotating daily specials.
“The emphasis is on fresh and homemade,” Jessie says. “Most days we sell out our menu items, and we get lots of ice cream sales in the afternoon until 6, when we close.”
Under Jessie’s ownership, The Cookie Basket was a finalist for season 4 of HULU’s reality series – Small Business Revolution. She will be seen on the show that premieres in October.
“Owning a restaurant is tough,” she says. “Summer is our peak season; winter is a struggle. During the summer, more people are out. When Frozen Delite was located at its original location on Race Avenue, it was just ice cream. But they couldn’t make it, so they added food. The ice cream at The Cookie Basket has really taken off.”
The Small Business Revolution has highlighted many of Searcy’s local business owners. “There is a lot of competition around,” Jessie says. “Searcy is blessed with a lot of great locations, and there is a good movement going on here to support local people. You can get more, fresh from a local shop. Maybe it’s not always as convenient – we don’t have a drive-thru – but you can’t put a price on people knowing your name, your order, knowing your kids… we really try to be personal with our customers. It’s a continual investment. We keep evolving.”
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