Notable Names in 2013

Jan 22

A handful of the many movers and shakers in central Arkansas.

In Sync’s annual Notable Names issue, we profile just a handful of the many movers and shakers in central Arkansas tirelessly working to make this city a better place in the realm of community service, wellness and justice for all. From foodies to designers, athletes to philanthropists, and everything else in between, these are the folks making a difference in central Arkansas in 2013.


From Boulevard to Local Lime, chef is part of city’s most popular kitchens.

If you’d asked Ben Brainard, co-owner and executive chef of Local Lime in the Promenade at Chenal, what his future plans were just five or so years ago, it wouldn’t have included being in charge of one of the busiest and buzziest new eateries in Little Rock — he just wanted to cook.

Go back a little more than a decade, and even that wasn’t really in the cards. A local native who graduated from Central High School and got his degree in economics at Lyon College in Batesville, he never went to culinary school or aspired to winning hearts and minds through food.

But in 2001 he met Scott McGehee, whom he began working for at Boulevard Bread Company in 2004. And that started something.

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“Really, my life changed. I knew within a day that I’d found a home. It just made sense,” Brainard said, who noted a long-time friend, John Beachboard, was sous chef at Boulevard at that time. “It was a job out of necessity. But for the first time in my life I was focused.”

That focus was food. Particularly it was bringing west coast ideas about food, along with a touch of old country Italy, and working them into the local market. Brainard said he was a decent student in the kitchen, a foundation that goes back to watching his grandmother cook. Upon that foundation, McGehee piled hard work and demanded attention to detail.

“I guess I’d always ignored it,” Brainard said of his draw to cooking. “But Scott dug in and he found it in me.”

It was while working for McGehee at Zaza Fine Salad and Wood Oven Pizza that the concept of Local Lime started percolating, and that’s when Brainard said he started thinking about the front of the house as well as the back. Not that he’s good with books and balances — he’s got help in that regard. But it was a process to step out of the kitchen.

Of course, creating the concept took time in the kitchen, too. Lots of it, in fact. Recipes take testing, and there may be as many as 50 iterations of any item. It’s all a process of proportions and percentages, one worked out with McGehee, Beachboard and additional co-owner Herren Hickingbotham, whom Brainard praised as having forgotten more about cooking than the other three will ever know.

Together, it’s been a potent combination that’s resonated with diners.

And as for Brainard, he’s improving, too. Nothing is set just yet, but there’s already talk of potential for a second Local Lime. And after that, well, he said there’s also interest among the ownership in trying Asian. Or maybe fine dining.

“Somebody needs to do it,” he smiled. “So why not us?” — sw


Building a brand with attention to detail and an entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s hard to see drake smith and not immediately notice his sophisticated sense of style. And hearing that he has a fashion label in its third year, you’d never guess that he’s only 23 years old.

The North Little Rock native admits he gets that a lot. “I just have a real old soul, I guess.”

Smith’s fashion label, Smith & Brandon, came out of the desire to do something creative and expressive, but also to make something lasting and significant. “I just had a dream ... and a determination to make something positive out of my life,” he says.

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Smith credits his entrepreneurial spirit and desire to express himself for the development of Smith & Brandon, but he didn’t grow up with a passion for design. He played basketball well enough that he had the opportunity to travel all over the states and even to London with his AAU team, leading him to dreams of a professional basketball career. But as he hit growth spurts in high school and his knees started to suffer from the sport, he was forced to reimagine his goals.

His interest in sports is apparent in his designs, like in the brand’s trademark letterman jacket. There are also retro and collegiate influences there, as evidenced by the logo, a college-style crest boasting the brand’s initials, an open book and two keys. Also reflected in his designs? A lot of careful symbolism. “The keys mean brotherhood,” Smith explains. “And, when you have two keys, you can open any door.”

It’s this kind of attention to detail that Smith knows will help grow awareness of Smith & Brandon. That, and the brand’s commitment to “quality over quantity,” which is Smith’s motto. “We’re just trying to build a brand on quality ... at the end of the day, that’s what sells,” he says. “People actually appreciate our garments because they’re crafted, handmade.”

Currently, Smith & Brandon is sold online and stocked at Rock City Kicks as well as Fly Times, a boutique in Washington, D.C. Smith sees the line growing soon to include more pieces. “I’m growing up, so therefore the brand identity and vision are going to grow up as well, cause these are pieces I wear,” he says, citing the desire to move more into ties, socks, sports coats, trench coats and boxers.

But for now, he’s just focused on increasing brand awareness. He has a vision of a legacy, of creating a brand that is known in all 50 states.

“When I pass on, I want to leave this to my children, and they can leave it to their children. I know people say there’s no such thing as forever, but it’s possible.” — sm


UALR’s basketball player always motivated to improve her game.

Third team all-american. Conference All-Tournament team and conference tournament Most Outstanding Player. They aren’t bad honors for an upperclassman. Even better for a freshman like the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Taylor Gault, who led the Trojans in points, scoring average and steals last season. Oh, and she was also named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. In short, she set a pretty high bar for 2013, though that wasn’t exactly the plan going in.

“I didn’t really have goals. I didn’t set goals for myself,” said Gault while en route to a recent contest with conference powerhouse Middle Tennessee State, whom the Trojans upset for the conference title last year thanks in part to a turnaround jumper from Gault as time expired that sent the game to overtime. “I just try to do the best I can, you know.”

It’s a routine and a mindset that compel a player who describes herself as “never satisfied.”

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“Every time I’m walking off the court, I’m thinking of what I could do better,” she said. “I’m never satisfied with what I do, and that motivates me to do better.”

After a standout career at Conway High School, Gault made the decision to join the Trojans based on the strength of the program and a major in health and exercise science that may lead to a future in training or coaching, Gault said.

Not that it’s easy. In college, the responsibility to make it to class and practices leaves little room for much else, especially in season.

“I don’t have any time off at all. I don’t have free time,” she said. “Our free time is in the gym. Or walking to the gym.”

But a year of experience in that routine has helped, the sophomore said. Knowing the demands of the schedule — classes, practices, travel — makes it easier. And as for where it’ll take her and the team, Gault says that’s still for time to tell.

“I want to help the team so we can win a championship. I still don’t set goals for myself. I do what I can do, and if that’s rewarded, great. But I set the team first.”

With a chance for three straight conference titles and another consecutive NCAA tournament birth, Gault said the pressure isn’t so much to live up to the past as to keep the present, present.

“Last year I didn’t think about the legacy we had until after the conference tournament. I’d just think about it as another game to win,” she said. “But now, I don’t want that to end. And that’s the mindset for every game this year.” — sw


Young professional’s passion drives her commitment to helping others.

Get involved in one of the many nonprofit organizations in Little Rock, and chances are you’ll run into Kelly Caldwell.

Before her current position as the manager of communications and the foundation at Delta Dental of Arkansas, she worked as the development director at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas. She’s been involved with the Baptist Health Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club, and co-chaired the Tie One On fundraiser for Our House in 2010 and 2011. And, after spending last year as the chair of Create Little Rock, the Chamber of Commerce’s young professional organization, she is excited to chair next year’s Go Red for Women event which benefits the American Heart Association. “My hope is to spread the word about heart disease to my generation,” she says. “Heart disease doesn’t discriminate ... it is important for people of all ages to pay attention to heart health.”

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During her time as chair of Create Little Rock, Caldwell helped initiate a program called Get On Board that gives members the chance to serve on a nonprofit board of directors in Little Rock for a one-year internship. It’s a win-win opportunity for both board and intern: the intern gets the experience of serving on a board without financial obligations (and voting rights), and the nonprofit gains insight from a representative of a younger demographic, “who are the next generation of volunteers and donors for these nonprofits,” Caldwell says.

Caldwell’s commitment to philanthropy is deep, and her passion is effervescent. With the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation, she gets to focus those qualities on a specific need in the community. “When I first had the opportunity to work at Delta Dental, my passion to help others quickly started to focus on improving oral health as I learned more about dental disease,” she says, adding that “tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease today, and it’s blamed for over 51 million school hours missed each year.”

She admits that statistics like this, as well as some of the experiences she had with Ronald McDonald House, are difficult to face, but they are what gives her the energy and motivation to stay involved. “I can’t tell you how a job like that really puts your life into perspective,” she says about her time at Ronald McDonald House. “You may think you are having a bad day, and then you play foosball with a sweet, bald-headed cancer kiddo, and you realize quickly that you are the luckiest person in the world,” she says. “I’m too blessed in life not to pay it forward.” — sm


Couple eases the transition from teenager to adult for foster care children.

A photograph of a smiling 17-year-old boy in foster care revealing his hopes and dreams for the future — that’s why 31-year-old Eric Gilmore is where he is today. The executive director of Immerse Arkansas, a nonprofit that prepares older foster youth for adulthood, was living in Ohio at the time. His wife, Kara, 30, and a volunteer with Immerse Arkansas, was working as a case manager with the department of human services in Dayton when she brought home a calendar of foster children seeking adoption, including the grinning boy.

“I had no idea that we had 17-year-olds in our country looking for families,” he says. Eric Gilmore, an Indiana native, had graduated from Cedarville University in Ohio with a degree in international studies. Kara Gilmore, a native of North Little Rock, was a social work graduate from the private Christian university.

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In August 2010, Eric, who earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Kara started Immerse Arkansas. The organization helps former Arkansas foster-care youth transition into adulthood.

Eric Gilmore says there are about 4,000 children and teens in foster care in Arkansas at a given time. But about 230 foster-care teens to 250 foster-care teens turn 18 and age out every year in Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services has programs that assist them, but Kara Gilmore says “a lot of youth don’t want to stay in the system. They are ready for their independence and they have an idealized view of what their life is going to be like once they are on their own.”

Immerse Arkansas assists these youths through a three-step program: prepare, connect and succeed. The prepare stage provides the youth with basic skills for being independent with the help of a transitional coach and plans out a map for the future. The connect stage moves the young adult into the world, connecting him or her with a job and/or an education. The youths in this stage are required to attend church or a civic group of their choosing. The final stage involves fully immersing the young adult into the community.

The statistics for youths who age out of foster care are bleak. Eric Gilmore says 40 percent of foster children who age out slide into homelessness before the age of 24. Only two to three percent graduate from college. There are also high incident rates of addiction and incarceration. Knowing all of this is why he and his wife started Immerse Arkansas. “We couldn’t pretend we didn’t see what we saw,” he says.

“It’s a manageable problem. ... We’re talking about 250 teens. And maybe only half of them really want help. We think that’s really doable. It’s not a problem that should exist.” — ss


States of Mind creator reflects the heart and humor of Arkansas and the U.S.

Although born in little rock, Keith Carter grew up in what he calls the “middle of nowhere,” halfway between Buckville and Possum Kingdom, Ark. “Those are real places,” he assures me.

It’s no wonder, then, that Carter’s quirky T-shirt designs reach out to even the smallest communities.

“If people feel passionate about something, then they will buy it ... Like our Gurdon shirt, ‘We’ll leave the light on for ya,’ really plays to local folklore,” he says, noting that for a while there, the Gurdon shirt (homage to a town with a population of roughly 2,000) was an online best seller.

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Carter says the idea for his company began when he helped his boss at the time come up with some ideas for new T-shirts for the pub where he worked. He realized he could get just about anything printed on a T-shirt, and in the following months, came up with some designs — mostly sports-related — with the help of a designer friend and sold them at the bar.

After a successful Sugar Bowl shirt, Carter started to see the potential for some ideas he’d been turning over in his head: “AR-Kansas is better than your Kansas,” the “Ark & Saw” image and “Garland County Community College: When doing your best is too hard.” He came up with the name AR State of Mind, and a brand was born.

After a successful weekend selling from a booth at Riverfest, Carter was soon setting up at as many festivals and events as he could. And he credits the support he received from his mother for his success. “She always encouraged me to find what would make me happy and go for it, and after Riverfest, she saw a viable business opportunity for me,” he says. She gave him the start-up money needed to open a kiosk in Park Plaza Mall, but she hasn’t been around to see his success since then; she passed away after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer just days after his kiosk opened.

“To her I owe everything I have,” Carter says. “But where would any of us be without our moms?”

Now, his designs are stocked in almost 20 stores around the state, and he’s just launched a new brand, States of Mind Clothing, which will eventually feature designs for all 50 states. He’s also in the planning stages of opening a flagship States of Mind Clothing retail, design and print shop on Main Street in downtown Little Rock later this year. — sm


Providing dance classes for children with disabilities.

Nineteen weeks into her second pregnancy, Julie Mayberry was told her second child would be born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair. Feeling depressed and at fault, she began to think about all of the things her daughter would not be able to do.

“But I realized that was just in my head. I had this preconceived notion of what people in a wheelchair can and can’t do, but there’s been nothing that Katie has wanted to do that we haven’t been able to make happen,” she said.

When Katie was almost 3 years old, after watching her sister take a dance class, she asked when it would be her turn. Mayberry didn’t know how her daughter would be able to dance, but she told her, “When you’re 3,” hoping Katie would forget.

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After her third birthday, Katie brought up the subject again, and Mayberry — who spent a few years as a dancer in college before switching to journalism — decided to create a dance class just for her daughter. That was eight years ago, and that experiment has become a business called I Can! Dance, a studio providing dance classes for children with disabilities in North Little Rock, Conway, East End and Hot Springs. She has an army of volunteers that give physical support and encouragement to children with everything from cerebral palsy to autism. These “dancing buddies” — often friends or family members — assist them during class.

“Some of the kids with autism need one-on-one help just to pay attention,” Mayberry said. “Children with cerebral palsy can’t lift their arms without help. The buddies will rotate them or lift their arms in different positions.”

Mayberry says the classes and the children inspire her everyday.

“It’s infectious. It was a simple way to give my daughter the ability to dance, and I could have stopped there, but once I saw what it was doing, not just for her, but the other kids in the class, and once I saw what it was doing to the other parents and saw how it was affecting the buddies in the class, I thought, ‘This is too good of a thing to stop here. We need more families to experience what this is all about.’”

Mayberry says convincing parents that their children with disabilities can take a dance class is her biggest obstacle.

“They say, ‘How is my child going to dance? She can’t even move her own arms.’ But those children, their eyes light up, they communicate, they know what’s going on,” she said.

One of the next projects on Mayberry’s horizon is to build a fully accessible playground and tree house for children with disabilities next to the I Can! Center in Saline County’s East End neighborhood. — mt


Operations director for food network expands awareness of local goods.

sam hedges emails. “How about we meet at 8:30 tomorrow morning at The Root? That’s close enough to your workplace, and their coffee is great.” The request makes sense. Hedges is director of operations for the Arkansas Local Food Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to local food and connecting Arkansas farmers with the public.

And so here sits the just-turned-26-year-old Hedges at a period he calls a “really exciting time” in the local food scene. But how did he wind up with the Arkansas Local Food Network? The path curves.

Hedges grew up in Little Rock, graduated from Catholic High School and then attended Sewanee, the University of the South in Tennessee, as a religion major. Yes, a religion major. Food? “My senior year, I didn’t know how to cook a bowl of rice,” he says.

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But a senior year environmental studies course, and a class project involving him and a classmate visiting local farmers and farmers’ markets, introduced Hedges to the local food concept. Following graduation, Hedges got a job with Heifer International’s Learning Center at Overlook Farm in Rutland, Mass. Living on a farm, Hedges and his co-workers cooked nightly. (Rutland is rural, central Massachusetts. Not much else was going on.) Food — locally grown and raised food — had seized Hedges’ attention.

“After four years of college where all you are talking about are abstract ideas — especially if you are a religion major — to go from that to something as fundamental as what you eat just really caught on with me,” Hedges says. “It was really that experience. When I came back, food was something I really wanted to do. It’s totally random.”

The Arkansas Local Food Network promotes the local food system, assists Arkansas farmers and supports the local food community. The network offers its online farmers’ market (with weekly pickup at Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Little Rock), but with the growth in the last few years of other local farmers’ markets, the network is involving itself more into education, Hedges says. “We are just glue for what is a rapidly expanding food scene.”

The network published Fresh, a local food directory, in September 2012 and held its first Little Rock Local Food Tour in SoMa in October. The future of the network includes focusing on its farmers’ market (the network’s “bread and butter”) while adding more workshops and educational activities.

The local food scene is growing, Hedges says, but there are still a lot of questions. How do you reach people outside the local food scene? What about local food for low-income families? What do food labels mean?

There are questions. Hedges wants the Arkansas Local Food Network to be the answer. — ss


Ensuring access to legal representation for those who can’t afford it.

when asked what drew her to her current position as executive director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, Amy Dunn Johnson turns to her attorney’s license hanging in her office a block from the Arkansas State Capitol and begins reading. “It says, ‘I will not reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the impoverished, the defenseless or the oppressed,’” says Dunn, who is also executive director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation and Arkansas IOLTA Foundation, a trio of organizations, along with the commission, dedicated to providing legal access to low-income or under-served Arkansans.

“As a lawyer, I think any lawyer should be concerned with the integrity of our judicial system, and the civil justice system, as it exists right now, is ... failing people who cannot afford attorneys,” Johnson says.

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That’s where the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission steps in. The commission, created in December 2003 by the Arkansas Supreme Court, has one main mission: helping to provide “equal access to justice in civil cases for all Arkansans.” Although the commission itself does not provide direct legal representation, it works to provide more access. (The nonprofit Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation was founded in 2009. The foundation promotes and supports the commission’s aims while also educating the public and raising funds for both the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas, two free, legal-aid organizations that provide low-income Arkansans — living at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level — with assistance in civil law cases.)

“Many people are not aware there is not a constitutional right to have an attorney appointed to represent people in most civil matters,” Johnson says.

Think family law cases, including domestic abuse and child protection. Consumer law cases such as bankruptcy, foreclosure and collections. Health and housing issues such as evictions. Civil cases where there’s not a financial incentive for a lawyer to be involved. Pieces of Justice, the 2011 annual report which the commission was a part of, states 15,812 clients in Arkansas were served in 2011 with 57 percent of the cases involving family law.

Johnson was led to law school through her interest in public service, but her public service doesn’t end when she leaves her office. Johnson is also a co-founder of the Harmony Health Clinic, a free medical clinic for low-income residents of Pulaski County. She also serves on a number of boards, including boards for the Little Rock Community Mental Health Center and First United Methodist Church Board of Trustees.

Johnson’s busy — with family, jobs and volunteering — so there’s little time for hobbies. But, in a way, public service is her hobby. “I absolutely love what I do right now,” Johnson says. — ss


Promoting access to fitness and health through gyms and personal training.

It’s not exactly a fairy tale, but Jake Snowden, a partner in 10 Fitness, has Disney to thank for a lot of his life. Firstly, it was during a year-long internship with Disney World in college that he met the woman who would become his wife. Secondly, it was that internship that focused him on a major in kinesiology, which prepared him for a career in fitness.

“What I learned at Disney University, I still use that today,” said Snowden, sitting in the very low key corporate office of 10 Fitness, located on the bottom floor of a building that was the gym where he worked out. Now it’s a new concept for the company, 10 Fitness Plus, designed for a crowd of a little higher intensity than the average activity seeker, with an eye to Crossfit-type workouts, spin, and heavier and more free weights.

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After earning his degree from the University of Arkansas, the Fort Smith native spent some time in sales and in coaching as well, which had been the original intent. But “something was missing.” He found that something in personal training and the deep and genuine connections you make with people, he said.

“It’s fun, and so cool because, with every single person, you owe it to that person to study who they are,” he said. “Not everybody just wants to lose weight.”

The opportunities to do that, at least directly, started to change in 2005 when Snowden was approached by Eric Buckner about becoming a partner in a new model of gym, one that had been taking off elsewhere in the country. The model was to price low and try to get a broader audience. The first 10 Fitness opened in North Little Rock in 2007, and it didn’t take long to read the proverbial tea leaves.

“We realized within that first quarter, within three months, that this was going to be the future,” he said.

Today there are eight 10 Fitness locations, including a new out-of-state venture in Springfield, Mo. The growth in that time hasn’t been despite a weak economy, but partly because of it, Snowden said.

For Snowden, it’s meant adjusting to being not just the face of the trainer, but a face of the chain of gyms. That has its own rewards, though.

“Let’s say the universe or whatever tells you you need to go to Kroger for whatever reason, and there you run into a woman who recognizes you as the guy from the gym. She wants to share that success with you,” he said. “Maybe you had nothing to do with her losing 30 pounds, but she still wants to share and to thank me for that. Man, that feeling is awesome.” — sw


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