One of the unique newcomers to the Hot Springs culinary scene is Red Pier, a Chinese-owned Cajun seafood chain based in Memphis. The local franchise is the first in Arkansas.
“There’s, if I’m not mistaken, 14 – there’s Red Hook and then we’re the baby. Red Pier is the offshoot of Red Hook. After they opened this one…they opened one in West Memphis …we’re thrilled to be here,” said Brandy Gaston, Red Pier’s general manager.
The first thing about Red Pier that catches your eye is the impressive decorations and decor inside the restaurant. All manner of faux sea life and nautical artifacts hang from the ceiling and adorn the walls – life-size sharks, lobsters in nets, kayaks, huge glowing crustaceans, life rings, and more.
At the back of the bar stands a statue of Captain Jack Sparrow of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame, peering through a spyglass. Next to him is a throne on which patrons can pose for photos. Perhaps most striking of all is a prominent projection of underwater life swimming over two adjoining walls, creating a sense of depth.
In keeping with Chinese ownership, the Red Pier building once housed a Chinese restaurant. Traces remain, in particular the two stone dragons which stand guard in front of the doors.
“We think they’re pretty cool,” Gaston said, “I know it was a Chinese buffet for a little while.”
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Many restaurant employees are also of Chinese descent.
“We are Chinese owned so our kitchen staff are Chinese and the kitchen manager is a shareholder. It’s a language barrier we face and it’s a learning experience and that’s great” , said Gaston.
Red Pier, located at 4510 Central Ave., opened in January during omicron’s push and faced challenges stemming from the pandemic almost immediately.
“The training was tough and the opening, more than half of the people we trained ended up with COVID. So when we opened it was supposed to be a soft opening, we weren’t really going to say whatever it was we were going to do, because people came, wait for them and give everyone a little training experience,” Gaston said.
“And then whoever was doing our publicity at the time said we were doing our grand opening. We were very, very short-staffed because everyone had COVID. It was just…extravagant, but we did succeeded,” she said.
If Red Pier hadn’t succeeded, Hot Springs would be without its tasty seafood.
“We have king crab legs, we have snow crab legs – our dishes are available in half a pound or a pound. You choose and mix and match your seafood that you want to put in your bag. comes with corn and potatoes. We have broccoli that you can add to it. It’s like a crawfish boil, only you get it with larger scale seafood,” Gaston said.
“We do boils, they come out in this really cool bag that looks like a hot air balloon coming to the table. We have three seasonings, lemon pepper, cajun and garlic butter. You can do the Red Pier special, which is all of that mixed together. And then you can choose your heat level, so you can get it from not spicy at all, to really hot. And they boil your seafood in there.. .everyone raves about the flavors,” she says.
Some of the favorite orders are catfish, snow crab legs and the weekend special which “includes snow crab legs, lobster tail and shrimp,” Gaston said, “that’s one of our most popular things. It’s just all in the bag with your choice of seasoning.”
The Red Pier also has a bar.
“The bar has only been open for a full week. This weekend will actually be our first weekend with the bar fully open,” Gaston said.
Red Pier is also a family restaurant. Children’s coloring pages of all kinds of sea creatures cover the walls near the entrance.
“We’re very, very family oriented,” Gaston said. “The coloring pages are something that I imagined. They always gave pencils to the children to write on because we have paper on the table, but the children are a little bored with that So one night we had a lot of kids here and I just went back there and drew some sharks on a plain piece of paper…and took it out. And all the kids were calm and colorful…when my area manager came over, I let her know I was doing this and she said, ‘Oh, so they can hang them up.'”
Red Pier also plans to start offering karaoke in July, in addition to its other entertainment.
“We have a DJ every Saturday night. It’s just to bring people in and have more entertainment. The music is a bit loud, but that’s how we like it. Soon we’ll try to make live music, at least one night on the weekend,” Gaston said.
“Here we want you to know about hands. We bring you gloves and a bib, hand wipes… plastic dishes. We have a bucket that you can put all your shells and stuff in. “We’re not your usual dining experience…it’s just going down and getting in there. Some people struggled with that at first. We have silverware if you want silverware,” he said. she stated.
“Our slogan is to get your hands dirty. We want you to come in, we want you to relax, feel at home…and get dirty. If you’re looking for great seafood, seafood different seas, you will come here.”
Q&A with Brandy Gaston
Here are excerpts from the interview with Brandy Gaston, presented in the form of questions and answers:
Q: All time favorite meal?
A: It’s tough…a steak.
Q: Go to comfort food?
A: Steak and mashed potatoes.
Q: Favorite restaurant?
A: Red Pier.
Q: Your favorite part of working in the Hot Springs area?
A: It’s right next to my house.
Q: Any advice for someone new to catering?
A: Communication is key.