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Retired Hot Springs eatery Coy’s Steak House, which burned in 2009, was inducted into the 2022 class of Arkansas Heritage’s Arkansas Food Hall of Fame's "Gone But Not Forgotten" category during a ceremony held today.
Upon finding out they were nominated, Coy's co-owner Tracy Manning Brown said they were "so emotional."
"It just means that it still means a lot to people," Brown said.
"... It's just a nostalgic feeling that we could have something that could still be remembered and still be talked about," she continued. "... And it's so cool, even that if we're not here, we can still teach people about that kind of dining, about that kind of an atmosphere where we were all family in the way that we worked and it just means the world to us."
The history of Coy's runs rich in the local community. It was started by the Theobalt family in 1945, and later purchased by the Manning family in 1972 when Coy Theobalt privately put the business up for sale. From 1972-2009 the Manning family kept the beloved local Coy's alive for 37 years before a fire burned it down in the early morning of Jan. 16, 2009. Coincidentally, the following day was the start of Oaklawn's horse racing season for that year, and Coy's was a staple for race-goers. And from that day on it was sorely missed.
Brown said they still don't know what caused the fire that erupted while they were closed.
"It was very cold that night, like 9 degrees, and when the firemen got there they just said that they saw smoke coming from the (roof), and we spent a lot of time investigating that, trying to figure out," Brown said. "At first we thought it was a hot water tank, and then we thought it was a heating unit, but where they actually called the fire at its spot, there's nothing there. There was no equipment, nothing. So we don't know."
Coy's was known as "Arkansas's most award-winning restaurant for a long time," she said.
"Our main thing that everybody knew was our aged beef; our steaks," Brown said. "And we were also very well-known for our house salad dressing. So when you came in you were given warm crackers and our special salad dressing that occasionally actually made it to the salad, but you know you would get a sleeve of crackers ... so you'd break your saltines and you'd dip it in the dressing, and pretty much if you ask anybody that's the first thing that they're going to remember is the salad dressing."
Brown said they are proud to be able to represent Garland County in the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.
"We had other restaurants; we had a Coys in Little Rock and in North Little Rock, but always, the Coy's in Hot Springs was the favorite, and we are proud that people look at us and feel proud that we were there," she said.
"And we know of people all over the country that know of Coy's, especially in the horse racing community. ... And I hope that one day we can be a restaurant again. I hope that we can bring some of what we have in some way in the new world into today."
Despite still not having a Coy's restaurant, in November 2021 they started to bring Coy's back into the community by relaunching the selling of the products they used in their restaurant.
"We've always made the product and had the product," Brown said. "... It's just got a lot of fond memories for folks, and so ... we just did some focus groups with the products and it was just so well-received, and so we just took off with some of those products. It's been really fun."
For more information on how to buy Coy's products, visit coyssoutherneats.com.
Other Hot Springs eateries nominated and making it to the finalists for the 2022 Class of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame included retired eatery Mrs. Miller’s Chicken & Steak House in the same category as Coy's; and The Ohio Club and Bailey's Dairy Treat.
According to an Arkansas Heritage news release, the organization launched the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame program in 2016 to recognize Arkansas’s legendary restaurants, proprietors and food-themed events across the state. Throughout October 2021, Arkansans rallied around their favorite selections as more than 2,000 submissions were received from all 75 Arkansas counties for the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.
“It’s special to see Arkansans from across the state come together to celebrate food, an important part of our state’s heritage and culture,” Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said in the release. “We are honored to recognize such incredible proprietors, restaurants and food-themed events that mean so much to our state and its residents.”
Winners were selected by a committee composed of Arkansans who are historians, chefs, foodies and food authors. In addition to Hurst, committee members include Paul S. Austin, Jimmy Bryant, Chip Culpepper, Quantia “Key” Fletcher, Cindy Grisham, Montine McNulty, Rex Nelson, Tim Nutt, Kat Robinson, Stephanie Wade, David Ware and Stanley Young. Event partners include Ben E. Keith, Moon Distributors, The Poultry Federation, Arkansas Department of Agriculture and Arkansas Farm Bureau. For more information, visit ArkFoodHOF.com or download the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame mobile app on Apple or Android devices.