LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Chances are if you have been out to eat this week in central Arkansas, something on your plate came off a Ben E. Keith truck. It's one of two major culinary distributors in the state.
Ben E. Keith announced a new facility for their Mid-South division in 2013, broke ground in 2015 on the east side of North Little Rock, and will finally move into the new facility in January. The new facility is twice the size of the previous facilities combined. It's also a high-tech hub bringing many new products and opportunities to restaurants and regular consumers.
Facilities Manager Robert Fourt said the facility has a new automated storage and retrieval system that allows them to provide customers with more of a variety of products. That includes products that a distributor might not be able to carry normally.
The facility has over 19,000 slots that can hold items as small as a serving spoon. The massive space and high-tech gear also paves the way more food options for local restaurants.
“This enables us to provide better food products and more variety, not only to restaurants but their customers,” said Fourt.
Fourt said that many restaurants have had to go out of market to source products, but that is changing.
“With the new facility, especially with the automated system, they can store items they weren't able to bring into the market before.”
The new facility is only at about 42 percent capacity with a lot of new space to make available unique and custom items for restaurants. It's something Rock City Eats founder, Greg Henderson, said will enhance the overall food scene.
“The big thing for the consumers is the increase in the amount of diversity of products they will see in the restaurants,” said Henderson. “They'll have products they were never able to have before.”
The facility also provides unique benefits to community members. While the distribution facility is mainly for restaurant owners, individuals from the public are also able to buy products in bulk from the customer will call center.
Additionally, the new facility houses a large training and meeting room area available for local chefs, businesses and civic groups to hold functions. There is also a full-service kitchen with state- of-the-art appliances for training and development.
“It's a place that acts as a centralized meeting spot for chefs,” said Henderson. “They have more training opportunities and can test out new skills in the kitchen.”
All the expansion and training opportunities also mean more job opportunities for central Arkansas.
“We'll be adding around 75 new jobs, mostly in the transportation area, in the next few years,” said Fourt.