If there’s such a thing as culinary superheroes – a Dynamic Duo of the restaurant business, if you will – it surely would look something like Louis Petit and Jim Keet.
Petit is certified restaurant royalty. Dreaming of America since his teenage years, he answered a trade ad in the 1970s seeking a maitre’d for a French restaurant in Little Rock. That restaurant was the landmark Jacque and Suzanne’s, which during its run would inspire generations of new chefs and restauranteurs to come. From there sprang more beloved Central Arkansas restaurant ventures including Maison Louis, Café Prego, Graffiti’s and Alouettes.
He would be asked many times over the succeeding years why he chose The Natural State over tonier locales such as New York, Chicago or San Francisco. To this, he always answered the same way: He didn’t care how or where he landed in the United States. Besides, his accent allowed him to stand out immediately.
Over five decades and 155 restaurants, Keet has grown into one of the most successful restaurateurs in Arkansas history. Keet started at age 15 working in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, then helped pay for college working at Steak & Ale and Holiday Inn while attending SMU in Dallas. Each job developed his already considerable work ethic and razor-sharp instinct for pleasing the public.
In Arkansas, he and a partner landed the state’s first Wendy’s franchise, which started an entrepreneurial run that today includes the eclectic lineup of Taziki’s, Cypress Social in Maumelle and the brand-new Waldo’s Chicken and Beer in North Little Rock. He’s also diversified the family-run JTJ Restaurants to also include Keet O’Gary Construction and Keet Management Company, which directly or indirectly employs thousands.
The duo’s friendship stretches back 40 years, so there was nothing unusual about getting together for a glass of wine and conversation back in 2013. That particular evening, however, would prove a red-letter date in their friendship as, over some very good wine, the two decided they should open a restaurant together. When the former 1620/Savoy restaurant location became available, they jumped at the chance to collaborate, and Petit & Keet, Little Rock’s newest casually elegant place to see and be seen, was born.
The duo’s friendship dates back 40 years.