Looking at the current home of WunderHaus, the building on the corner of Oak Street and Locust, it’s hard to imagine that less than a year ago it was just the facade of a gas station, paradoxically painted in flames. Today, the “European kitchen” sees so much business that it’s had to nearly triple its staff since opening. Such immediate success is remarkable in any situation, but for a brand new, wildly original concept based on a food truck to see such love from the community is something no one expected, not even the owners.
“The brick and mortar was intended to be a home base for catering and supporting the WunderBus,” Kacy Forrester, a quarter of the two couples that own the restaurant explained, “we started with two people out front [on wait staff] and then suddenly we were completely full all the time.”
So how can one explain such a jarring explosion onto the restaurant scene? They give credit mostly to their local policy: whenever possible, WunderHaus gets its ingredients from an Arkansas (preferably Central Arkansas) farm or producer.
Their commitment to this policy is immediately obvious; at any given moment, they can tell you where your food came from, whether it was the ham hocks from Rabbit Ridge Farms in Bee Branch or the sweet potatoes from the New South Produce Cooperative based out of North Little Rock. Even the flowers on the tables come from Bell Urban Farm, located just blocks away from the restaurant.
This has led to one of the more unique selling points of the restaurant, a completely producer-driven menu rotating constantly in accordance to what food is in season. “You will not see a tomato in this restaurant in the winter,” Jacqueline Smith, another part-owner, said indignantly when asked about the menu. “It doesn’t make sense not to use the best ingredients, and nothing compares to an Arkansas tomato in the summer.”
Their relentless demand for the best quality of local ingredients shines in the dishes themselves, which reflect both a traditional European comfort style of cooking with some uniquely Arkansan twists. “Persephone” immediately comes to mind, a blue rice risotto dish which normally would not have been considered for the menu. When Ralston Family Farms introduced them to a rare Arkansas variety of rice, however, they knew they needed to put it on the menu even if it didn’t fit the traditional German style. Which is a great thing, not only because Ralston focuses on sustainable methods and is located in Atkins, Arkansas, but because the product tastes delicious. That feels almost redundant to say, but it’s worth noting that, on top of everything else, WunderHaus’s local policy is responsible for some unbelievably great tasting food.
When I asked what made them decide to go fully local, I was given a number of explanations, but the first, knee-jerk reaction was the most telling. “We were both pregnant,” Jacqueline said without hesitation, “And I was watching a lot of documentaries at the time and we decided that you can either contribute to the way things are or you can change the world for the better. So we decided to change the world for the better.”
WunderHaus opened officially in December of 2017 and since then has shown impeccable dedication to the Central Arkansas community and provided a welcome addition to Conway’s growing restaurant industry. Ultimately, they said, they want to set an example for restaurants both present and future and set the tone for what it means to be a local industry and to support your community.
With their undeniable success, wonderful food, and immediate splash into Conway’s cultural identity, I imagine we’ll be seeing businesses of all varieties following their example in the near future.
WunderHaus is located on 900 Locust St. in Downtown Conway, across the corner from the Fire Department. Hours of operation span from 11:00-2: 30 pm Tuesday through Friday, 5:30-9:00 pm Friday and Saturday (bar stays open after 9 on the weekends). No business Sunday and catering through the WunderBus is available upon request.