SPOTLIGHT ON SMALL BUSINESS: The Rock House in Searcy

Amanda Elston is a woman who knows how to work hard. She spent years putting in 100-hour weeks alongside her husband, doing everything from setting up natural gas drilling fields and doing roustabout work to constructing metal buildings, selling oil field safety supplies and running a used car lot that also sells mowers.

The dynamic duo has also just started a cattle farm that employs the oldest of their three sons, but Amanda’s favorite business is the Rock House restaurant in Searcy. Serving up hearty portions of quesadillas and tacos, sandwiches and wraps, pastas, chicken and pork, seafood and steak with an array of big salads to boot, this is a place where patrons come to throw down.

Their giant specialty burgers bear names like the Pacemaker (double beef patties, two layers of candied bacon, fried eggs and queso) and Beelzeburg (jalapeños, lettuce, eruption sauce, pepper jack cheese and tomato). And among the appetizers, the Rock Star Fries are a massive, plate-sized assemblage of melted cheese, bacon, chives, chili, queso, tomatoes, jalapeños and sour cream – a meal that could easily satiate two people, for just $14.99.

“We cater to blue-collar people and some of them have big families,” said Elston, who moved here with her husband 18 years ago to work in the natural gas industry. “We also learned that our three boys could never agree on one restaurant, so we made a restaurant that has something for everybody.”

The Rock House was opened in 2015, after the Elstons bought Doc’s Grill, a longtime steakhouse in the same location. Doc’s had catered to an upscale crowd that was prominent in Searcy during the national gas boom, but as the fields ran more fallow, those who could afford Doc’s left town.

Amanda tried to run Doc’s for about a month after buying it, and quickly noted plenty of problems that would interfere with success amid the economic downturn. She shut it down for a month to do a thorough reinvention of the space, theme and menu. She also pursued a liquor license as a private club, winning in an arduous battle that included two lawsuits from Searcy’s legendarily conservative Harding University.

The restaurant reopened in Feb. 2015 as Rock House – a name whose double meaning covers the fact that the outside of the building prominently features rocks, while the inside’s walls are covered with vintage rock-concert posters and album covers, as well as a red, white and blue guitar that was owned and autographed by John Mellencamp.

Elston oversees a staff of 50, and has room for 245 customers in the fun, bustling space. She takes pride in keeping her staff happy, but has nonetheless encountered the labor shortage facing countless businesses nationwide.

“Keeping employees and training them correctly is a bigger problem since COVID, because people got paid to stay home,” explained Elston.  “They got the wrong mentality, they got to sit on their butt and get paid for doing nothing. That’s why they say don’t feed the bears, because they become dependent.

“We reward the people that will work. They get higher pay, they get more hours, they get to make the money that they want. Servers get really good tips here because they work and are friendly and are happy,” she added. “If you don’t project a happy attitude, people don’t want to be around you. We try to make it where they don’t have to work all the time, make sure they’re not overworked or underworked either, that they make enough money, and they’re happy.”

Rock House is located at 1301 E. Beebe Capps Expy., Searcy. Call (501) 268-3627 or visit rockhouseeats.com.

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