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The Kream Kastle is a family owned and operated restaurant located at 112 North Division Street in Blytheville (Mississippi County). It has achieved a regional and state reputation for both its food and for its history as a central meeting place in the Blytheville community and as part of the larger Delta culture.
A son of first-generation Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, Steven Johns started the business in July 1952 in a small building with window service only. In its early days, the Kream Kastle was a high-volume/low-overhead hot dog stand. As the menu expanded, so did its transition to a full-fledged drive-in. Before outdoor speakers, Johns employed car hops who wore white uniforms in all weather. Later, covered parking and an intercom system were added. The Kream Kastle promoted its hot dog, the staple that began and sustained the business, as “Deliciously seasoned with our chili and chopped onions: Take Home Sack of 6 for $1.00.”
Johns added barbecue to his fare in 1955, taking a gamble in a market that was already saturated with barbecue, as the Old Hickory Inn, Rustic Inn, and the iconic Dixie Pig were all located in the area. In reaction to the opening of the chain restaurant Sonic Drive-In, Johns ran a special—“Pig Sandwiches for 69 cents and 6 for $1 on Sunday nights”—and had such a volume that he could not keep up with the demand. To help him on the special’s final day, the Dixie Pig’s Buddy Halsell brought him two fully smoked pork shoulders. In communities dealing with the first incursions of national chains into exclusively local markets, it was not unusual for local business operators to join in an arrangement of mutual support.
In the 1960s, Johns’s health began to fail, and family members operated the business until his death in 1979. After a series of outside operators, the business was taken over in 1986 by Steven Johns’s daughter, Suzanne Johns Wallace, and her husband, Jeff Wallace. Wallace became known for loading the back seat and trunk of his Cadillac DeVille with firewood for use in the barbecue pit.
Wallace constructed the “sit down” room that became a popular meeting place for notable local figures as well as state political and business notables. State Senator Steve Bryles, civil rights attorney Oscar Fendler, and future Texas Longhorns football coach Fred Akers (a Blytheville native) were among the regulars. Al Roker, the weatherman of NBC’s Today show, also visited the drive-in in November 2015 as part of his “Rokerthon” tour.
The business was the first food establishment in the city to take down its “Whites Only” sign with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It was also the first to remove the racial distinctions between cooks and porters, due to Johns’s discomfort with Jim Crow segregation.
Even in the twenty-first century, the Kream Kastle accepts only cash and checks. A member of the new generation of the Wallace family, Jeff Wallace Jr., joined the business in 2013.
For additional information:Nelson, Rex. “Arkansas’ Barbecue Capital.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 4, 2012, P. 9B.
———. “The Pig Sandwich.” Rex Nelson’s Southern Fried, July 2, 2013. http://www.rexnelsonsouthernfried.com/?p=4978 (accessed January 5, 2016).
“Rokerthon Stop in Northeast Arkansas.” Arkansas Matters, November 10, 2015. http://www.arkansasmatters.com/news/local-news/rokerthon-stop-in-northeast-arkansas (accessed January 7, 2016)
Revis Edmonds Arkansas State University
Last Updated 1/9/2016
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