East Oak: “Looking Back”

When franchise eating establishments finally came to Conway in the early 1970s, residents began to have quite a selection of places to go “out to eat” instead of the usual “drive-up.” Many of those first restaurants were located on Oak Street.

One of the first that I remember was McDonald’s. The first location in Conway was on Oak Street in front of the new Faulkner Plaza Shopping Center. It was soon joined by a Bonanza Steakhouse and together they flanked the entrance to this center that housed Wal-Mart, Cinema 6 and Kroger.

The other restaurant in the shopping center was Shoney’s Restaurant. It was located closest to the interstate and was open for many years. It is now home to Whole Hog BBQ.

It was during this time that my family started going out to eat on Friday nights. Bonanza was a regular destination, along with Western Sizzlin’ when it was built across Oak Street. Both had meals that were ordered off the menu along with a large salad bar.

This shopping center was a busy place from daylight ‘til past dark. After dark, it was part of the regular route for teens to go “cruisin’” The circuit began with teens turning by the Sonic on Harkrider. They would travel through the area known as Cow Town, mostly on Willow Street, until they reached the loading dock area behind Wal-Mart.

Cars would then circle around the north end of Wal-Mart and turn right so they could drive down in front of Wal-Mart, the theater and Kroger. They would then turn right on Oak Street and travel back to the intersection of Oak and Harkrider where they would turn right to make the circuit again. Others took the reverse route.

On any given Friday or Saturday night, teens would load up with their friends and “cruise Wal-Mart”. No one was in a terrible hurry, so it might take fifteen minutes just to get around the north end of Wal-Mart. There was plenty of time to see and be seen.

As one would imagine, this did not sit well with the store owners and patrons. Eventually, security was hired to keep the teens moving along. The shopping center eventually rerouted the northbound traffic so that only southbound traffic traveled in front of the stores. Later, security made sure that no cruising occurred.

The new pizza restaurants were also popular places to hang out. Ken’s Pizza was located where Simmons Bank sits today next to Rally’s. It was also a favorite Friday night destination for our family. That was where I had my first restaurant pizza and it was the best!

King’s Pizza later opened in the old Minute Man location across from McDonald’s. It cut its pizza into squares. It was there that a lot of church groups gathered because it accommodated large crowds. I particularly remember the pizza with pineapple on it. That was a new one for Conway.

Joining these restaurants along busy Oak Street in the 1970s was Baskin Robbins, which was located in the small building at the corner of 1st Avenue and Oak. It was next to Danver’s Restaurant, which served some of the best hamburgers around. Both were in front of the Western Sizzlin’

At one time there were two Minute Man locations in Conway. One was on Harkrider where the Baker Center is currently under construction. The other one was located where the new Andy’s Frozen Yogurt recently opened. This one became a King’s Pizza and later the Shipley Donut location.

Further down Oak was the first Kentucky Fried Chicken location in Conway. After decades as a KFC, the building sat vacant for a number of years. It has recently undergone several transformations and is now a Sumo Korean Kitchen and Ramen.

Oak Street was and remains congested as a result of all this commercial development. I also was in my first wreck when I became collateral damage for someone trying to turn into Faulkner Plaza Shopping Center. Those were the days…

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.