An Across-the-Pond Classic Meets Southern Hospitality
by Josh Williams
photography by Amanda Shelley Ledbetter
It isn’t normal to associate English muffins with Southeastern Conference football. However, the “original” sport of football pairs incredibly well with tea and crumpets. But, we’re not talking about tea and crumpets, here. And most Americans don’t like bouncing balls off of their heads and doing something where you can’t use your hands. Right now, we’re talking about some good ole’ Eggs Benedict, fried potatoes and probably the best corned beef hash in the Ouachita Mountains. Plus, the abundance of hanging Razorback pennants, Bayou Bengal banners and fresh, home made English muffins are sort of like a breakfast bonus.
Denise Arbuckle, formerly Denise Egeler, started the English Muffin almost 25 years ago, on April 19, 1992. Her parents, Fred and Barbara Egeler, had once managed the old Vapors nightclub in downtown Hot Springs, but Barbara really wanted to open a restaurant, so Denise just took the reigns and made sure of that. “I worked at Waffle House for about 10 years and it is pretty much the inspiration for the English Muffin, with some local flavor.” Denise said. “I just love the open-kitchen design. It gives me an opportunity to connect with my customers. I can see them, and they can see me.”
Now, the English Muffin isn’t open 24 hours, and there isn’t a FEMA-sanctioned measure of disaster recovery strength known as the English Muffin Index, but nothing looks able to stop the growing force that is the English Muffin. “I have such a great customer base,” Denise said. “So many repeat customers from, not only the locals, but from out-of-towners and race-meeters (Oaklawn attendees). I have generations of customers. I even have employees that have been with me more than 20 years. I’m very lucky.”
One of the reasons Denise’s business has increased every year–besides the excellent service and quality product– is the addition of the famous corned beef hash to the menu. The chunks of corned beef in the hash at this place are like huge gold nuggets of beefy deliciousness. The hash was nice and crispy on the outside and supple in the middle, filled with flavor. “About three years ago,” Denise said, “one of my waitresses mentioned doing it [corned beef] and we just decided to do it. In the beginning, it was falling apart and we weren’t real happy with it, so we kept trying. It’s been a work in progress, but we’re pretty happy with the results now.” Most of the English Muffin’s customers are happy with it too, it’s one of their best sellers.
Another reason for the English Muffin’s continued success is Denise’s candor and leadership skills. Most businesses close within the first year or two of operation, but for a small, family-run business to be going strong 25 years later? That’s a credit to the ownership, but don’t tell Denise that. “My employees are the real reason we’re still open today. My employees create such a wonderful atmosphere here that the customers always feel comfortable. I like to say ‘Which came first, the customer or the employee?’ In my case, it’s the employee. That’s why we close at two o’clock, so we can all go to the lake,” Denise finished with a Cheshire Cat-like grin.
The English Muffin is a very inviting place, too. For sports nuts and local culture enthusiasts, it’s a no-brainer: The entire SEC is represented with hanging banderoles and brightly colored rally signs; picture collages of famous thoroughbreds and their jockeys draped with wreaths of flowers after their Arkansas Derby wins adorn the walls; high definition televisions hang in the corners; the patio offers one of the best views of Lake Hamilton one will find in Hot Springs; the wait staff is friendly, attentive and helpful; it almost feels like a local man-cave with an open kitchen, but for the public.
Not everything is peaches and cream, though. With an ever-expanding business model, the need for operating space becomes greater. That’s one problem that the English Muffin is dealing with presently. “If I could go back, I would have bought the space next door too,” Denise laughed. “We are expanding to add a patio on the south side of the building, which as you can see has a beautiful view of Lake Hamilton, and I’m planning on constructing a breezeway in the front of the restaurant. We are running out of space and I need to do something fast.”
Being one of the best breakfast spots in Hot Springs isn’t easy. There are many local eateries that provide great food and excellent service: The Pancake Shop, Colonial Pancake and Waffle House, Alexa’s Creperie and Kollective Coffee + Tea are some fine examples. But, the English Muffin is different. The passion, excitement and energy that comes oozing out of this place is tangible. “The locals are the true secret to my success in Hot Springs,” Denise said. “They keep me going in the winter months, they’re so loyal to me. I really owe everything to them.”
Hot Springs Arkansas is a naturally beautiful spot that draws millions every year. It provides numerous entertainment options. From the great restaurants, to the art galleries, to the pubs and performance venues, it’s crucial to make a good first impression in the spa city if you want that repeat business. “You have to be a quick learner in Hot Springs,” Denise proclaimed. “This is a great place, you can live and play here. There is always so much going on. My job is to provide great food and a great experience, period. That’s what it’s all about.”
The English Muffin is located at 4832 Central Avenue in the Pointe Plaza on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. Call (501) 525-2710 or visit them on Facebook.com/ English Muffin for more.