About the Show:
We recorded this episode back in February of 2020 before the pandemic hit us like a ton of bricks. We have weathered the storm a bit, have hunkered down in our homes, and masked up like never before. I think we are all longing for the day when we have a vaccine and can get out and resume everyday living.
We sat down with Kalene Griffith, President, and CEO, who, along with her fantastic team run, Visit Bentonville. There is so much that goes into being an Ambassador for an area like Bentonville, and Kalene and her team make it look easy. Of course, the pandemic has created challenges for everyone. Still, Visit Bentonville has become a partner and supporter of local programs like “Be Safe Be Smart,” which help promote our community’s safety and enhance our visitors’ confidence.
While many of the events mentioned in this episode were either canceled or postponed, Kalene has figured out ways to promote alternate events, online offerings, and safe practices to keep people coming to the area to enjoy the beauty of the Ozarks.
Here are some cool statistics that Kalene shared with us on this episode:
More people travel by car to Bentonville from Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Chicago than any other city.
There are 300 Restaurants in Bentonville
There are 22 Hotels in Bentonville
There are more than 150 miles of bike trails in the local region.
104 East Central
Bentonville, AR 72712
94 IANWA - Visit Bentonville a Conversation with Kalene Griffith
Randy Wilburn [0:01] Hey folks, this is Randy Wilburn. I have a special episode for you today. It's one that I recorded back in February of 2020. I had a chance to sit down with Kalene Griffith from Visit Bentonville. She was kind enough to share all of the wonderful things that Visit Bentonville was doing to bring this area and create more awareness for people outside of Northwest Arkansas. But of course, as we all know, the pandemic reared its ugly head at the end of February, early March of 2020, and I decided to delay putting this episode out. I finally want to release the episode, and I had a chance to follow up with Kalene last week, and we talked at length about some of the things that they are doing to help all types of local entities here in Bentonville stay safe during this pandemic. And also, still working on creating awareness for other people about the alternatives that are available to people that decide to come to Bentonville and how they can always make the most of such a beautiful place like the Ozarks. So, I'm excited to share this episode with you. I recognize that some of the things that we talked about, some of the events coming up at the time, spring and summer, most of them got canceled, some got delayed, and some got postponed. But the bottom line is that I think that as Northwest are Kansans, we are a resolute bunch, and we typically do not let things get us down. And I would say that Kalene and the rest of her team at Visit Bentonville have done a tremendous job of not letting the pandemic get the best of them but putting their best foot forward figuring out what to do. Yes, they had to deal with budget cuts, but they have figured out ways to support local programming, like being safe and smart. They want to do all that they can to encourage people to enjoy Bentonville in a number of different ways. Some of which we never talked about before, which is like digital-only. Many online digital programs allow you to enjoy Crystal Bridges, The Momentary, and the Amazeum, and so many other programs that are on. You can still drive to Bentonville, granted the numbers right now with the pandemic aren't looking that great, but over time, we will get more control of COVID-19, and more and more people will keep coming back here. One of the things that she did share with me that I was blown away by is that most people who drive to Northwest Arkansas do so from three places. And those three places are Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Chicago. Yes, that's right. Chicago that's nine hours away from here; those folks drive here quite a bit, so I thought that was interesting. So, without further ado, I want you to enjoy this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Hear what Kalene has to share. And if there are some ways that you can think of to help boost tourism, you should share them with her. All of her contact information will be in the Show Notes. I believe that this is a worthwhile episode to listen to. We need to recognize how great we have it even though we're not out every day because of the pandemic. Many of us are doing life a lot differently than we were even back in February, and I think we should be thankful for the area that we live in, and Kalene certainly makes a great case for that. And one of the statistics that she also shared with me was that 86 percent of people are looking for safe destinations. And she feels very strongly that Bentonville, Arkansas is a very safe destination, as she feels that same way about Northwest Arkansas as a whole. But Bentonville being her focus, is a safe place to come and visit. So, if you're listening to this during the pandemic, consider visiting us in a safe way, whether virtually or whether in person, and we will certainly leave the light on for you. If you are listening to this post-pandemic and the vaccine is working 100 percent, and everything is moving back to normal, we would love to see you here in Bentonville, Arkansas, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Springdale, Arkansas, and Rogers, Arkansas. But right now, this episode is all about Bentonville, Kalene Griffith, and her team at Visit Bentonville. You guys enjoy. Cue the music
TZL Open [4:49] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. The podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship, and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we have got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.
Randy Wilburn [5:20] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host Randy Wilburn. And today, I am sitting here with Kalene Griffith, the president, and CEO of Visit Bentonville. We are sitting down here on the square in downtown Bentonville. I'm looking at the 5 & 10 Museum, the museum for Walmart, and looking out over the square. And it's just nice to be with you today. Kalene. How are you?
Kalene Griffith [5:47] I'm doing fantastic. I'm excited to be part of this.
Randy Wilburn [5:49] Oh, good. That's awesome. Before we get into Visit Bentonville and all the amazing things that are happening here, I will say this. As I was sitting downstairs waiting for you, I looked up on the wall, and I discovered many new hashtags that I can use for everything related to Bentonville. And so, I certainly want to share with the listeners. I want to give them a picture of what Bentonville is all about, specifically for people coming here from out of town, but even for the locals. I talked to many local people who don't know enough about their backyard, so we have got some work to do. But, in the meantime, and in-between time, I want you just to give us your superhero origin story and tell us who Kalene is.
Kalene Griffith [6:35] Well, I'm fortunate I've been here for 14 years. I came for this job. I had the opportunity to interview--- At that time, it was called Bentonville, USA. And I'm fortunate that I got to work through changing names and our branding and messaging. But before that, I was a YMCA director. I worked for Disney as a lifeguard, and then I worked for their travel company. I've also worked for Chambers of Commerce as Director of Special Events in three different chambers. And so, I have a vast background that is tourism-related that I didn't know that I was in tourism prior to this job until I started visiting with my interview and going through the process. And I was like, I've been doing tourism since I've been 15 because I was in hospitality with restaurants, and my mom owned a restaurant. So, I was doing many things through Parks and [inaudible 7:25], that's all tourism. And so, I just was part of all of that from the time that I was 15 until now. My background and education as early childhood education, I always tell people that I'm just like working with everybody's like working with a five-year-old. You get excited when everybody does something good, and you tell them why you can't do something, and you give them a little more description. So, it's everyday life.
Randy Wilburn [7:48] And you went to K-State, right?
Kalene Griffith [7:50] I did go to Kansas State. Yes. Cool. Yes, we'll
Randy Wilburn [7:53] Okay. We won’t hold that against you.
Kalene Griffith [7:55] I'm a big 12 kind of girl.
Randy Wilburn [7:57] It's all good. It's so funny, because everybody around here if you didn't go to the UofA, it's like, well, where did you go? But that's great. And I know they actually have a really good early childhood education program. They have a few high quality---. I mean, it's a good school period. But I mean, it's, and it's just off the road.
Kalene Griffith [8:14] A big agricultural school. And early childhood education was one of their top degrees. And so, I loved it. I'm fortunate. I always tell people I'm a K-State fan since I've moved here, but I'm a UofA fan unless they're playing the Wildcats.
Randy Wilburn [8:28] That's true. Maybe they will meet you guys in the big tournament.
Kalene Griffith [8:35] We did meet once, but we'll not talk about that.
Randy Wilburn [8:38] All right. So, are you originally from Kansas?
Kalene Griffith [8:41] I am originally from Kansas. I grew up in Dodge City, Kansas. But I was born in Iowa and grew up in Dodge City, Kansas. So, I was in a total tourism town because we had Boot Hill, Miss Kitty, Matt Dillon. We had gunfights every night on Front Street [inaudible 8:56]. You don't realize that until you leave and grow up and you're like, my whole town was tourism.
Randy Wilburn [9:02] Do you feel like that has helped you?
Kalene Griffith [9:06] Unfortunately, my dad was a chiropractor, and my mom was marketing with our mall in our community. So, it was all about services and taking care of people. We were very involved in the community from all levels. My parents raised us to make sure we took care of people and service people. And I feel like that's what we do here at Visit Bentonville. We make sure people are taken care of. They are our friends, they are not clients, and we build relationships with them to make sure that they continue to come back regularly. And I think that's what I love about Bentonville because I think everywhere you go, at every restaurant, every hotel, every attraction, people feel that everybody's hospitable. I think that's our number one compliment, and I think we are proud of that here at Visit Bentonville.
Randy Wilburn [9:54] I tell people all the time, and I travel a lot myself, but when I go other places, they're like, you're in Arkansas, and I’m like yes but don't knock it until you've tried it. Visit and then talk to me about it. And then every time people do that, they're like, I see why you have been there for five years, and you're not leaving anytime soon?
Kalene Griffith [10:14] Well, I think that's probably one of the things our team is most proud of, is we are changing the perception or the image, and we want to make sure we keep elevating that image in the community. We are very proud of what our team has done and what our community has done as a whole.
Randy Wilburn [10:30] With all the corporate citizens of the area, specifically one big corporate citizen that I can think of that looms large in Bentonville, how has that been to try to connect the dots with all that goes on with Walmart, as well as everything else that's happening?
Kalene Griffith [10:47] When I first moved here, I found that we were not very involved in things prior to my existence here at Visit Bentonville. One of the things that I felt very strongly about was how we get connected with what's going on in the community. And the first month, I visited every single restaurant at that time, it was about 125, now we are over 300, and every hotel, which was about 15, and now we are at 21, getting ready to be 22. So, it was meeting with those folks and talking to them and telling them we are here for you. We then started looking at our corporations. What are we doing that we could be helping those corporations? And I think the key to that was with Walmart. Who do we connect with? We connect with the event’s team, so we are part of that when bringing in events. How do we help them succeed? And so, what we became was an extension of everyone. And our team grew from having three to nine now. And so, to me, what's important for us is Walmart is a great team member for us; we work really closely with them. And it's more about some of the smaller events, some of the bigger things, but we are the home of Walmart. Our business Monday through Thursday is based on the business traveler, so we focus on how we help them? How do we partner with them to make those experiences better? How do we work with them to make sure they have that call for our team if there’s anything they need? And we look forward to that. It took me five years, I'm on 14, to make sure that we had the connection and understood our role because it was a lot of education, because we were not involved. So, I think that's one of the things that we focus on how we collaborate with our team. How do we connect with those, and Walmart is a prime example of that? We connect on all levels, from partnerships with them to the events and show’s team, even working with their marketing team and the Walmart Foundation. We work with their marketing team when they're working on a project, and there are things that we can help them with or connect with them.
Randy Wilburn [12:55] What about HR?
Kalene Griffith [12:56] I don't think we work with HR much. We might work with them from a meeting perspective if they're bringing people in. We had a group that came in, they had a meeting, and they wanted somebody to talk about HR, and we reached out to Walmart to see if they could do it; that was early on in my career. And one of our team members was handling it, but I think they spoke with them, but I can't guarantee that. They were an association and wanted somebody from our HR organization, and I think we reached out to Walmart for that. It was a 45-minute session. They just wanted somebody to come in and talk about some of the rules and the laws. I think Walmart worked with us on that, if I remember correctly, and that was years ago, and I can't even tell you who we talked to.
Randy Wilburn [13:50] I'm just curious because if I had a company here, I would want to team up with the Visitor’s Bureau and an organization like Visit Bentonville to shine a light on all that there is to do here. That's one of the reasons why I'm doing this podcast. It's the idea that the intersection of business culture, entrepreneurship, and life here in the Ozarks. There is so much going on that sometimes it's hard to get your arms around it. And if you're busy recruiting people trying to get people to come to Northwest Arkansas, the last thing you need to be thinking about is that there are a bunch of events, but what events are they and that is where you guys come in and can fill in the blanks and create a picture for what individuals can do while they're visiting and what they can do once they move here.
Kalene Griffith [14:39] We have a tagline here, and it's not even a tagline. I don't know if that is what you would call it. Tourism is the gateway to economic development because people will visit here before they move here. People are going to visit here before they invest. We are the front door to their businesses and how do we help them be more successful, and we are very adamant. We are getting ready to survey many of our local businesses and local leaders on what are some of the things that we are doing well and what are the things we can improve on. We want to be a team member to the schools, our city residents and be a good partner for them. Our job is to bring in people from outside the area, and we really say after that 50-mile radius, so our focus is to advertise and promote our city to those surrounding us. We talk a lot to the drive market from Tulsa, Oklahoma City, which talk Kansas City, St. Louis, Shreveport, and Dallas, those are all within five miles, five to six hours. And so, we know that we have people driving. I think Dallas is our number one that comes in the Texas area, Oklahoma City area comes in, and our third is Chicago. That's about close to nine hours.
Randy Wilburn [16:01] It’s a little bit of a wait.
Kalene Griffith [16:03] They are coming from Chicago. Those are our top three markets that we know people are coming from.
Randy Wilburn [16:07] I had no idea. That's interesting. It's funny you mentioned that because now that I think about it, I have a friend who I worked with, and another company that I was a part of, and they came down here to visit with us. And they were taken aback by the air, and they're like, this is so beautiful. Then I took them to Wright’s barbecue. I blew their mind, and they were like, we're coming back. So, they came back and they brought a whole group of people back with them. And now he's coming back with his wife next week. Of course, where are we going for lunch, Wright’s Barbecue? He's staying at 21C while he's here. He's taking it all in, and he said, I just love Northwest Arkansas.
Kalene Griffith [16:50] Well, and we hear that often. And we are fortunate because I think we are changing the minds of folks about what's coming here. And I think the quality of life and experience has created this quality of life for our local citizens, but it has also created this destination for the visitor. And I always tell people our key attractions are arts and cycling; they are our top two destination drivers. Now along with the business traveler, we are always going to have that being the home of Walmart, and we love that because that works with our hotels and our restaurants, Monday through Thursday. But how do we build that weekend business? Because when I got here, it was 15 percent occupancy, which means our hotels needed weekend business. So, we increased our sports business. Now we are doing arts and cycling, and along with our sports business, bus tours, meetings, cycling, and arts, it is a huge aspect of all that's going on. Over 650,000 people came to Crystal Bridges last year. About 60 percent of that is from the region, 40 percent is from outside of the area. And then our cycling- 56 percent of our cyclists are from outside our region; we can't beat that. And we know there's a vast number of increased riders coming from outside the area. I spoke in St. Louis, at a bike conference and this group brought in, I want to say, around 70 people from St. Louis. They all came down, they got Airbnb’s and hotels, and they were here. It was a St. Louis takeover; Kansas City does that. And they bring down 50 to 70 people, and they ride our trails. We love it because our trails are progressive. So, somebody like myself that's just started riding, I can ride the easy trails. My wheels aren't going to leave the ground. I'm doing no drops. I'm doing the easy stuff. But yet you have those adventurous, more skilled riders that are doing the drops, and we have all those aspects for the rider. A wife and a husband can come down, a family can come and they can have a full experience within our community. And the nice thing is they can do it in the region, so it's not just Bentonville, they can go to Bella Vista, Fayetteville, Rogers, Eureka Springs; you get a different experience in every one of those cities. Being the AWS trails destination for us as a region has really benefited us because a visitor doesn't care if they're going under a bridge and knowing they're leaving a city. They care about the full experience and you're going to Wright’s which is not in Bentonville. We love Wright’s, but it's not in Bentonville. It's not going to be one of our [inaudible 19:34] ones that we do but we want to be part of that whole experience as a Northwest Arkansas region.
Randy Wilburn [19:41] You couldn't have said it better. Even though Wright’s is not physically in Bentonville, you've got the 8th Street Market, which is basically taking the world by storm. And every time I visit Bentonville, I leave some money there, depending on whether I need a smoothie or anything like that, I'm there at the 8th Street Market. And indeed, I think, when The Momentary comes, and you have mentioned it, there are 2-10 poles of what's keeping everything together for Visit Bentonville, and that's the arts and cycling. And I think it says a lot about this area that it can support those two totally different things in the way that they do. Tell me just a little bit from your perspective, if you're talking to somebody who’s on the outside looking in or wants to learn more about Northwest Arkansas, why do you think we have successfully generated this buzz about the arts? I mean, Crystal Bridges is the linchpin, if you will, all of that, but why do you think that has happened?
Kalene Griffith [20:42] Well, I’m going to start back in 2005, when they made the announcement. If you talk to the rest of the world, we were not a destination for a museum or arts. And what it did was it opened a door of experiences that we didn't get in the middle of America, the heartland of the US. We did not get that experience of the arts. And when I think back, I didn't get to grow up with arts. We would go to a museum every once in a while, but every day our kids get to experience art. So, all of a sudden, it's introducing something that was not introduced to them earlier on. But what I think we've done an excellent job of is we've created it so it's accessible to all. And, Alice, Walton was very adamant about making sure it's accessible to all. And I think that is the first step. They have over 500 pieces of art at Crystal Bridges, so you may not like the colonial period, but like the contemporary, you're going to have a positive experience in that museum because the medium that you want to see is there. I think it's just introducing it to people. I think the variety of exhibitions they're bringing in regularly brings guests back and introduces them to new guests. I think we continue to collaborate from advertising and marketing to events to how we work together. That is what I love most about Northwest Arkansas is the partnerships. And I think that is what's made Bentonville successful. We work with people regularly, from the Chamber of Commerce to the mayor's office, to our downtown Association, to our Parks and Recreation, and to even some of our bike organizations within the community, even Fat Tire, Mojo, the bike shops. We are a partner with them, how do we help them become successful? How do we promote their businesses? So, when a traveler comes here, they know that they can go rent a bike there. Here's what they have to do, and they know it before they even get here. So, it's figuring out that partnership, and I think arts is a key to that. And I think the city had a public arts advisory board, that was there, but it wasn't being utilized. Now they have it, and it's very active. I think they have nine pieces- well more than that because they've done a ton of tunnels. They have invested in public art. We invest in public arts because we don't want people to go to Crystal Bridges, get back on the highway, and go down to another city. We want it to be a full experience, multi-days. So, we see us investing in art as a city, and that it's important to invest in arts and it's one of the largest economic drivers for communities, from the public arts to the arts within Crystal Bridges. I think that collaboration, the accessibility to it, and the diversity of the arts that are being put into Crystal Bridges is huge. Now, I'm excited about The Momentary because I think that's a whole different venue than anything we've ever seen anywhere. I think it's a contemporary arts venue, that you're going to have an entirely different experience than you're going to see artists and residents at work within the museum. I don't think you're going to get to see that anywhere else. It is an industrial former cheese factory that you can now go into, and they did it in such a wonderful way. It's also going to have Performing Arts, and so it’s diversifying more for us. I think that's what I love is we see where things are going in Bentonville, and we look at what are the opportunities and we step into those and go, here's a gap, let's fill that gap. I think you have a great leadership team that is embracing those opportunities.
Randy Wilburn [24:31] You said a mouthful. I think about just what these things mean. Right now, we have the Scott Family Amazeum. When the Momentary does come online, it's going to be amazing, no pun intended. You just have a lot of other things. People are starting to say that maybe we should relocate here, perhaps we should be here and be located here. I don't know if Mr. Sam would have ever envisioned this. And when I say Mr. Sam, I'm referring to those that aren't familiar with Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. You talk about the embodiment of this collaboration and teamwork that takes place here and how you've partnered with all these different organizations. And that was a lot of his mantra. When I read his biography and just how he brought people together, it's no accident they became as big as they did.
Kalene Griffith [25:19] I think he had a vision as I believe he was a visionary guy and a visionary leader. I think he would have embraced this and even looked at it in a different way than a lot of us and said, hey, we can do more, what can we do? Where are the gaps? Because I think that's what he did within Walmart is he'd say, hey, what are we doing? Well, what should we be doing? And where are our gaps within there? He did that every day. And if you go and see his yellow pad---. I think that's what the city has done, and I think that's what his family has invested. And I think we're fortunate for Northwest Arkansas and Arkansas as a whole as we continue to see opportunities with that.
Randy Wilburn [26:02] I think it's great, and obviously, I don't want to not mention the fact that they're about to build a brand-new campus here in Bentonville, which I think is also going to be an attraction in and of itself. Have you guys thought about how you're going to try to support that?
Kalene Griffith [26:16] We did a presentation. We visited and told them to get together as it gets closer to the date because I think we will be a good partner for that. And, as they are bringing people in because it's going to be a state of the art type of facility, people will want to see if they can replicate. We have that now within our cities from other cities coming here to visit our community to say, what are you doing and how can we benefit from it? Dothan, Alabama, came in a few months ago, and they wanted to talk about the arts and how the city, the municipalities, and the chamber. How do they work together? That was huge for us. Independence, Missouri came down. They brought 45 people from their community leaders to find out how Parks and Recreation can work with the Tourism Bureau, with the city government, with the schools, and what was that partnership like? It’s just interesting, and I think Walmart headquarters is going to be that same way. I think people are going to come here wanting to know more about it, why they're doing it, and how do we learn from that and I think that's a key part of it.
Randy Wilburn [27:26] I think it's great. What is it? 2024, 2025?
Kalene Griffith [27:31] I know when they announced it was five years, so I think we are about three and a half to four years.
Randy Wilburn [27:36] The thing I also like about being down here in Northwest Arkansas, compared to where I came from in the northeast part of the country is that things get done fast, comparatively speaking. If you grew up in the northeast, or in the New Jersey area, or Boston it takes forever to get a municipal project done. Here or Texas, you turn around and blink, and it's done. I think it will be done quicker than people think, but I think it will be done with a high degree of quality and thoughtfulness behind it, which I think it's going to be exciting.
Kalene Griffith [28:10] If you haven't seen it, it's online, and they have a 3d aspect of it. It’s fantastic. If you get a chance, because it is amazing to see and because it's like no other facilities.
Randy Wilburn [28:21] I'm going to put a link to that along with your information in the Show Notes because I think people need to see that and see what's ahead. Anything exciting for this spring-summer season for Bentonville that you're aware of that you want to share with the audience?
Kalene Griffith [28:38] The Momentary is the most exciting. It's opening up on February 22. They also have a FreshGrass Festival. It’s a Bluegrass folk type of music festival coming to the area that I think will be a unique experience because they have that outdoor facility amphitheater area that I think you're going to get a great experience. So, you can walk across, go to 8th Street Market with your dollars and come back. I think, of course, the Bentonville Film Festival is coming back in May; we are very excited about that. We have our spring arts and crafts festival that continues; it’s been going on for years. We still have quite a few people coming in for that. It's a little bit of a different experience, but we love giving multiple experiences for our community. Of course, our baseball, softball, soccer. We have tennis, softball, everything that you can think of. We have things going on in the spring that keeps us busy. I believe we have almost 45 sporting events coming in this next year. We have almost 80 bus tours coming in. We have about 28 cycling events. And then I think she's at 36 to 40 meetings at this point, and those get added too. We have multiple cycling events that are going on. Our biggest one is that we just announced it's a first-time event. It is the big sugar gravel ride, and it's sold out in less than five minutes. One thousand riders signed up for it, and there is a waiting list. So that's going to be a big one, which is in October, which, you know, October is all bicycles. We have the [inaudible 30:32] off-road in October. We have the outer bike event. So, we continue to have a lot of different cycling events with that. But those are some of our big ones. They bring in professional cyclists, big names from that perspective.
Randy Wilburn [30:44] And doesn't it go almost all the way to the Missouri line?
Kalene Griffith [30:47] It goes over the Missouri line. You’re in Missouri. It is on gravel. We are starting from The Momentary, finishing on the square, and it goes out of town. You're on a paved road for a short time, but the minute you get on a gravel road, I want to say it's 2.3 miles or something like that. And you're on gravel until you get back into town, and you’re on paved.
Randy Wilburn [31:10] That's going to be exciting. You may have to call it ‘Biketoberfest.’
Kalene Griffith [31:15] That's what they do. A couple of people say, this ‘Biketober’.
Randy Wilburn [31:18] ‘Biketoberfest.’ This is what we're doing. A lot of good things are happening. That's exciting. So, I guess it's hard for you to be the de facto representative of this area, seeing that you're the head of Visit Bentonville? Give our listeners an idea of the breadth of culinary availability here?
Kalene Griffith [31:53] Well, we are so fortunate because we have some amazing chefs at many of our restaurants. I seriously don't have a favorite. I have a favorite dish at every restaurant, if that tells you anything. I will list a few in the downtown and a couple of our-- You've got Fred's Hickory and that's the standing that's been here forever. And Sam Walton did a lot of business there, and I think they have a story within a story in that facility. You've got the Preacher’s Son that's in one of our oldest churches in the area. And Chef Matt Cooper is a celiac, so everything there is gluten free, so you can go there and have this wonderful experience and wonderful food. It is amazing. And I love it. If you ever get a chance to visit with him about the food, you hear the passion and see the passion. And then you have Pressroom, and you have Barchetta, you have Flying Fish, and then you have The Hive, which is Chef Matt McClure, and he's been a James Beard nominee the last couple of years. So, our chefs are being recognized by many key organizations. You have Chef Rob Nelson with Tuscan Trotter. He just opened up Trash Creamery, which is an ice cream place.
Randy Wilburn [33:15] Is it good?
Kalene Griffith [33:16] You can mix whatever you want. It's fantastic. And then you have Table Mesa. Table Mesa was one of the first ones. They came in before Crystal Bridges opened up. We had two restaurants on the square before Crystal Bridges opened up, and then Table Mesa took a chance coming into downtown along with Tusk and Trotter. Both of them opened up, and I want to say in 2008-9. Crystal Bridges didn't open up until 2011, so they focused on what was going on in the area and were visionary, and I give Carl 100 percent credit for taking a chance on us. And some of our newer restaurants, Scotch and Soda, Fiamma, Chef Luke Wetzel at Oven & Tap. You've got Kevin at Pedaler’s Pub with the brick pizza, which is just a destination within itself, that whole area. And then, of course, one of your favorites is 8th Street Market and what they're doing there, YeYos and the new Co-Op.
Randy Wilburn [34:20] Co-Op Ramen, and then, of course, there is Omar Kasim with Juice Palm.
Kalene Griffith [34:27] Yes, Juice Palm, and that's fantastic too. And then they have little shops like The Hill Folk. And then, well, of course, the food at Holler and you can get breakfast or lunch, and then even stay after your meeting and have a drink if you'd like and play a little shuffleboard. And then what kind of catalyst that was the Brightwater, the school. You can't beat that experience they have within that whole facility. You have Bike Rack Brewery there, and our newest is the Bentonville Brewing Company, which will open up over there, and then it's right next to Climb Bentonville. So, climb then stop by the Bentonville Brewing Company?
Randy Wilburn [35:02] Have you been to the Climb Bentonville facility? It’s amazing.
Kalene Griffith [35:06] It's a workout within itself. You got to be prepared to work out.
Randy Wilburn [35:13] So basically, you're painting a picture for me that there is never a shortage of things to do in Bentonville. Not only can you work hard here, but you can also play hard here. You can eat well here. And, you're going to come back for more if you're not from here.
Kalene Griffith [35:30] And I missed one that if you haven't been there, have you been to Louise out of Dayton Fieldhouse? [cross-talking]. I've heard about it. It’s phenomenal. It is one of my favorite experiences. My husband and I have breakfast and watch the planes come and go. We love doing it in the summer because they have an outdoor area. And we can sit outside with a beverage or just have dinner and watch the planes come in and out. And it is one of those that you get to experience. But they do have flight schools there, and 150 people are on the waiting list. The last I heard was 150. There may be more on that waiting list to become pilots. So, I think what that did was it introduced aviation to our community, and people are really embracing it. Louis Staden is an icon for women and for aviation as a whole. It's a great experience for us.
Randy Wilburn [36:27] Well, you certainly have your hands full here, and I think you're doing an amazing job representing Bentonville. Any final thoughts you would like to share with our audience, whether it's somebody who just lives down the road, a piece in Fayetteville or Springdale, or somebody coming from San Francisco to come here? What would you want to share with them?
Kalene Griffith [36:47] One of the things I didn't talk about was the Native American Museum.
Randy Wilburn [36:53] I interviewed them. That place is a gem. Mr. Bogle’s collection is---. I'm a historian, so I got off when I went in there. This is amazing. Like my son, who goes to the Arkansas Arts Academy, his class was there. And I was beating them around, looking at all the different exhibits. But Mona is absolutely out of this world, and I can't talk about it enough. I'm glad you mentioned it.
Kalene Griffith [37:23] I was trying to go through everything to make sure that was one of them. We talked about the trails, but we did not talk about the paved trails and that connectivity experience, not just in Bentonville but as a region. You can get on a paved trail for an easy ride from Fayetteville to Bentonville. We do that twice a year. You can ride one way or the other, and you get that experience. And that's a great collaboration with our Fayetteville Parks Department and our Bentonville Parks Department, a great collaboration. They then work with Springdale and Rogers to create a great experience; it's 36 miles. It's an easy stroll on a Saturday.
Randy Wilburn [38:03] There are places to stop and drink and do whatever.
Kalene Griffith [38:06] Even just to relax, we have done it a couple of times. One of the things that I think people forget is that the connectivity of those trails is a huge asset for us that other cities would love to have.
Randy Wilburn [38:20] There are just building, and Atlanta is just doing it now.
Kalene Griffith [38:23] Roy Durham has called me multiple times, so the connectivity of that Greenway experience has been huge. And I think you're going to see some more of that connectivity within our community. We want people to know that we're here to partner with folks if it's bringing in a meeting. If it's having an event. If it's working with a travel writer, our communications team works with travel writers all over the United States that come in and tell our story. They do such a wonderful job of telling our story better than sometimes us because they're experiencing it for the first time, which we get to see every day; it is fresh eyes. And so, we love that, and our communication team will work with folks that they're bringing in here, and how do we help tell their story. Even bus tours and sporting events are a $4 million economic impact; sports alone. And that alone with cycling, and then the addition of the business traveler and the arts, we are very fortunate. We have a lot going on and trying to make sure that we tell that story more and more each year. It gets more challenging because we want to do more things. We want to promote more nationally. We want to bring in more events, and sometimes those cost money, but we want to be a good partner.
Randy Wilburn [39:42] Well, you certainly are doing a great job with it, as I see right now.
Kalene Griffith [39:46] I have a great team.
Randy Wilburn [39:47] It's never just one individual. You're standing on the shoulders of some amazing people here at Visit Bentonville. So, people want to contact you, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?
Kalene Griffith [39:59] My email is great, and it's just my first name firstname.lastname@example.org. My cell phone is on my business card. I’m very accessible. It's 479-877-0077, or they can catch me at the office at 479-271-9153. I tell people that if you need something, we are here to help, and I make myself very accessible to the community and to what's going on in our community. I only want what's best for our community and also for our State. If you don't know, I'm on the State Parks, Heritage and Tourism Commission, and I'm very involved from a state level. We are hoping as a state, we want to continue to grow and evolve, and our team down there has done a fantastic job of elevating the awareness. They work with CJRW as our partner from a state-wide perspective, and it's really about promoting the state, and that benefits Northwest Arkansas. We benefit the rest of the State. Little Rock benefits. We have a great partnership with Little Rock. We bring chefs from Little Rock in Northwest Arkansas to the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival and showcase our city to the Atlanta area.
Randy Wilburn [41:15] Listen, I'm going to tell you Arkansas is like the best-kept secret; people don't realize that. The efforts you're doing and others help put Arkansas on the map, so people understand that I don't get those funny faces when I tell somebody when they say, are you still in Arkansas? I'm like, yes, and they're like five years. I'm like, yes, and I love it. I'm not leaving anytime soon. But you're going to have to see it for yourself. Outside of listening to this podcast or watching a video, you're going to have to experience it for yourself. And there's always going to be people like Kalene with a big smile on their face and a willingness to help you get exposed to all the great things that are happening here in the Ozarks. I got to tell you that Northwest Arkansas is truly a gem, and we appreciate all you're doing.
Kalene Griffith [42:01] Thank you. We have a great group of people, not only staff, even just the community, and we're fortunate that we have all these people wanting to come. I think the secret is out. When I moved here, it was 21,000, and we're at 50,000; the secret's out.
Randy Wilburn [42:18] 32.2. net new people [cross-talking]
Randy Wilburn [42:26] Kalene Griffith, thank you so much for sitting down with me and just taking some time. Hopefully, we can kind of share your story with the rest of the world and everybody else that wants to go a little deeper than what just a three-minute news story could cover. We appreciate you.
Kalene Griffith [42:44] Well, thank you for your time, and we love being able to tell our story. We appreciate you helping us.
Randy Wilburn [42:48] Thank you. Well, there you have it, folks, another great episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, or at least I'll let you be the judge of that. I hope you like what we shared today. Kalene is an outstanding individual just doing some great things here at Visit Bentonville. You need to check them out. I will make sure that everything that she mentioned, even all 50,000 of the restaurants that she listed will be in the Show Notes to know where to look and where to find them. Several of them I've been to. Several of them I haven't even been to yet. I'm also going to link to some of the people she mentioned, like Mona and Chef Matt Cooper, a previous guest on this podcast. I will share the links to those episodes in the Show Notes because we would love to cross-reference and see how things work so well together in this area. But that's all that I have for you this week. Again, I appreciate you listening to I am Northwest Arkansas. We are continuing to roll out new things, so stay tuned. We have got an email list that we would love for you to join. You can do so by visiting iamnorthwestarkansas.com. We would love to connect with you and share everything that's going on. There are three things that we are doing on our website. One is the podcast. The other is our business directory, which is free for any business in Northwest Arkansas. And then the third thing is our events calendar. We certainly want to make you aware of all the good things that are happening so that you don't look up and say that happened this past weekend. You want to make sure that you're making plans to be out there and be involved especially if you live here in Northwest Arkansas. And if you don't live here in Northwest Arkansas, visit us and see what all the fuss is all about. That's it. I'm your host Randy Wilburn, and I will see you next week. Peace.
TZL Open [44:27] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcasts can be found. For Show Notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit iamnorthwestarkansas.com. We will see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.
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Important Links and Mentions on the Show*:
- Visit Bentonville Website
- Visit Bentonville on Facebook
- Visit Bentonville on Instagram
- Visit Bentonville on Twitter
- The Momentary
- Crystal Bridges
- Great article on how Bentonville, AR is the Disneyland for Mountain Bikers
- Square to Square Bike ride from Fayetteville, AR to Bentonville, AR (36 Miles)
- Walmart HQ new campus
- City of Bentonville
- 8th Street Market in Bentonville
- The Bentonville Film Festival
- Fred’s Hickory Inn
- The Preachers Son
- Press Room
- The Hive
- Flying Fish
- Tusk and Trotter
- Trash Creamery
- Table Mesa
- Oven and Tap
- Peddlers Pub
- Climb Bentonville
- Bentonville Brewing Company
- Louise at Thaden Field House
This episode is sponsored by*:
The Exclusive Real Estate Group – Serving all of Northwest Arkansas from Dickson St. to Bentonville Square, Broker Chris Dinwiddie and his agents are ready to provide first-class representation for any of your real estate needs.
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