Northwest Arkansas’ Thriving Food Scene and Dynamic Intellectual Capital

Interview with Glenn Mack, EDD the Executive Director of Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food

We sat down with Glenn R. Mack, EdD, Executive Director of Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, for a quick Q&A session to give meeting planners an insider’s perspective on Northwest Arkansas’ dynamic food scene and the vibrant intellectual capital contributing to the area’s thriving food industry. Whether you’re looking for event venues, unique group tours, after-meeting experiences or brilliant thought leaders to speak at your next meeting, Northwest Arkansas has all the resources for an unforgettable event.

Q: What are some exciting things going on in the Northwest Arkansas food scene right now?

A: With the top four largest-growth cities in Arkansas—Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale—and the town with the fastest rate of growth in Centerton from 2010-17, NWA is also experiencing a rise in dining options. From food trucks to independent restaurants, chefs and entrepreneurs are opening operations as quickly as possible. At 8th Street Market in Bentonville, we are very excited to welcome new neighbors with Japanese, Filipino, Colombian and Southeast Asian concepts. At the 1907 Building in Rogers, the relaunch of Chef Jason Paul’s Heirloom and the opening of Onyx, Doughp, Nested Hen, The Foreman Bar and Loblolly Creamery are getting folks excited. 

Q:  What are some factors that are contributing to Northwest Arkansas’ reputation as a food hub of the Upper South?

A: The region is anchored by Walmart, Tyson, the University of Arkansas and J.B. Hunt, providing fodder for food system education that examines and engages with a wide range of production methods and scales. Abundant wildlife including wild game, freshwater fish, morels and chanterelles, berries, persimmon, pawpaw and nut trees are all indigenous to the Ozarks. Immigrants from the British Isles, Germany, Poland, France, and Italy along with Mennonite and Amish immigrants, and more recent immigrants from Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East have contributed to a diverse regional food culture. Additionally, locally grown food can be found at farmers markets and restaurants across the region.

Downtown Rogers farmer's market

Q:  Why was Northwest Arkansas the right location for Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food?

A: Food is central to quality of life. NWA prides itself on being an amazing place to live and raise a family. While most people tend to think about restaurants or farmers markets, the food system is significantly larger. It goes beyond getting the food from field to fork, to also include nutrition, food waste and recovery, and sustainability. One of the aims of Brightwater is to provide a model for strengthening the regional food system, and we do that through training, entrepreneurship, and connecting the regional culinary talent to other players in the food world. NWA combines the dynamism of growth with cultural amenities and quality of life that are not found in larger cities. Food is an intentional part of economic development and lifestyle of the NWA cities. 

Q: What are some ways that meeting planners can integrate the regional food scene into their meetings?

A: Meeting planners have multiple options for incorporating local food and drink into their activities. Brightwater hosts teambuilding and catered events at its Bentonville facility. Food tours such as Hogshead Tours, #SpringdaleTacoTour and BiteSeeing Food Tours are some easy ways to quickly sample the region’s best food and drink offerings. Let the venues, restaurants and chefs know what you want, and their seasonal creativity will astound you.

Want to Book an Event at Brightwater: A Study for Food?

Plan an event at Brightwater, the perfect  venue and facility for meeting needs such as parties, dinners, fundraisers, offsite receptions, food production and more. Some of the facility highlights include five kitchens and classrooms, a culinary demonstration theater, butchery, beverage classroom, BBQ trailer, food truck, greenhouse and outdoor garden plots.