Yellow Rocket restaurant group is run by four partners with different business, marketing and culinary strengths. We spoke with Executive Chef and Culinary Lead Scott McGehee to find out what’s propelling the company’s success.
How did Yellow Rocket Concepts come about?
My partners Russ McDonough, John Beachboard and Amber Brewer and I had five different restaurant concepts going, and Yellow Rocket was a way to put them all into one basket. But the name is very meaningful for me. I was raised in Little Rock; in the early ’80s, there was a video arcade called Yellow Rocket that I practically lived in. For me, the name conjures up a feeling of joy—a magical experience that is everything a restaurant should be.
Tell me about the five restaurant concepts under the Yellow Rocket umbrella.
Zaza is a salad-and-pizza concept with 10 salads on the menu and a build-your-own salad component. We serve great gelato, and it’s the perfect place to go for lunch and a glass of wine.
When we opened the first Big Orange Burger, there were lots of burger places, but none that offered a thick patty and fresh-baked bun. It’s an indulgent burger restaurant that also has a lot of healthy options. Several patties are veggie or vegan, and we bake gluten-free buns. We serve great cocktails and milkshakes, too.
I always wanted to do a Mexican concept, and Local Lime has really taken off. My father owned a Mexican restaurant. I love that type of cuisine. When we opened, there were no authentic Cali-style fresh Mexican joints in Central Arkansas. It was all mom-and-pop or Tex-Mex. We saw that there was a need and we filled it.
Heights Taco & Tamale is in a historic building in the spot of an old restaurant called Browning’s. It was the kind of place that served Tex-Mex but also spaghetti and blue-plate specials. When we got the space, we wanted to honor that spirit, so we invented a new style we call “Ark-Mex.” In addition to tacos and tamales, we serve things like fried chicken and fried catfish tacos with green-tomato pickle and remoulade sauce—it’s like Delta South meets Tex-Mex.
Then we opened Lost 40 Brewing, which was the brainchild of my partner John Beachboard and his wife, Amber Brewer. We found one of the best brewers in the region, who is creating a range of award-winning beers for us. The food is Southern-meets-German beer hall, with some amazing sausages, barbecue and charcuterie in the mix.
What items do you source from Sysco?
Sysco is our primary supplier by a long shot. At least 80 percent of what we purchase is from Sysco. They can get anything on planet Earth, like pecorino fresco cheese from Italy or the tipo 00 flour, which we use for our pasta. Sysco sales reps listen. I might call Lance Toler, Yellow Rocket’s Sales Consultant, five or six times a day just to brainstorm about new ingredients. We do blind tastings all the time. Almost all of our meats are antibiotic-free and all-natural, and we care about the ethical treatment of animals. Sysco is able to supply meat that matches those criteria and that wins in blind tastings, too. Sysco even encourages us to patronize local farmers. They get that it’s a big part of our success, and that if we are successful, they are successful.
Tell me about the Yellow Rocket creed.
Everything begins and ends with treating people—guests and our work family—with dignity, respect and kindness. That is fundamental.