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rolls are flying
by Shaila Creekmore

Rolls are flying once again at Front Page Café after an eight-month cleanup and rebuild following a devastating fire that caused extensive damage to the landmark Jonesboro restaurant.

On Dec. 15, 2008, owner Mickey Felts smelled a strange, faint odor when he entered the building at 5:30 that morning. For more than two hours, he continued to look for the source of the smell and even asked restaurant patrons if they smelled the burning odor. He climbed into the attic space, but could never find smoke or any sign of fire.

“It smelled like when you turn your furnace on for the first time in the fall, but this was December and we had been running our heat for a while,” said Felts. “My electrician, Jim Massey, came in and I asked him if he could smell it. He said he could and maybe it was something wrong with one of my heating and air units. I had just picked up the phone to call my heat and air guy when a man sitting with my dad yelled, ‘Mickey, you’ve got smoke coming out of your canopy.’”

By this time, smoke was billowing out from the roof of the covered driveway and Felts began telling his employees to get everyone out of the building while he called 911. The source of the fire was determined to be from the neon lights running around the eaves of building.

“You’ll notice this building doesn’t have any neon lights,” said Felts. “It apparently just sat in the attic and smoldered and smoldered until a big wind or something caused it to spark. It was a really windy day and once it got started, it spread quick.”

Felts, also part owner of Fat City Grill along with Tom Fielder, said the neon lights at Fat City were disconnected within days of learning the cause of the Front Page fire.

Front Page Café originally opened in the Fat City location in 1984 by Mike Felts, Mickey Felts’ older brother. In November of 2001, the restaurant relocated to the new location on Parker Road just off the 63-bypass.

“You know, when you think about it, this is the third time I’ve opened Front Page,” Felts said.

Felts said he never considered not reopening the business although rumors to the contrary spread around town. One contributing factor to the rumors may have been the length of time it took to begin repairs on the building. Felts had originally hoped to re-open in May.

“The fire happened right before Christmas so we couldn’t really do anything until after the holidays. And then there was the ice storm and that really put us behind,” he said.

Work on the building was extensive. The metal roof had to be removed and the ceiling trusses replaced. ServePro spent weeks cleaning the floors, chairs, tables and kitchen of any smoke damage. The only sign of the fire are two small burns left on a cushion in the waiting area that Felts chose to leave as a reminder of the fire. To Felts’ surprise, even the old newspaper front pages and sports memorabilia that line the walls of Front Page Café were saved.

The layout of the building remains the same and to regular customers, many things will look exactly as they did before with some touchups here and there. The menu is also basically the same with a few improvements.

“I dressed up the salads and sandwiches drastically,” said Felts. “I added boneless Buffalo wings and a couple other small things, but I’m still a family style restaurant with a variety of things on the menu.”

While Felts said he wouldn’t call Front Page Café a southern style restaurant, he said it is important to him for customers to feel like it’s home cooked food and to feel at home in his restaurant.

“I’m a hometown guy cooking for hometown people,” he said. “I want our customers to have the sense of feeling that it’s a good meal and a reasonable price. I want to be that restaurant the family wants to come eat at after church. If you want catfish and someone else wants a burger and someone a salad and a steak, I want to have that variety.”

Front Page will continue to throw its rolls and pass around okra, beans and other vegetables during lunch and dinner. For breakfast, Felts will again offer a traditional country style breakfast with all of the early morning favorites, including his famous chocolate gravy.

Front Page Café reopened on Aug. 24, and Felts said he’s excited to be returning as a locally-owned business in Jonesboro.

Front Page Café, 2117 E. Parker Road, is open for breakfast 6:30-10:30 a.m. during the week and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday with the main menu and pass around sides beginning following breakfast. For more information, call 932-6343.