In a hint at the menu planned for a not-then-open restaurant in downtown Little Rock, Lance Shaw of Arnold & Blevins Electric in North Little Rock climbed a ladder in an alley April 2, 2002, to install light fixtures around old outboard boat motors.

When the Flying Fish opened that April 10, it served lots of seafood – an unusual menu 20 years ago in Central Arkansas.

This Fish at 511 President Clinton Ave. was store No. 1 in a restaurant chain created by the same team whose Flying Saucer Draft Emporium drew beer lovers to the River Market District (Shannon Wynne’s Dallas-based 8.0 Management Inc., with local investors). And like Flying Saucer, the Fish was popular.

Democrat-Gazette food critic Eric Harrison’s review took note of lines stretching out the door (as they still can today). He praised the “darn fine fried and grilled seafood” and the nonfish items, too; but he did not enjoy what he termed the “goofy ‘wait twice'” ordering system.

“First stand in line to place your order – the kitchen is inside, separated by swinging porch doors from the two front dining rooms – then wait a second time while your food cooks,” he wrote. “You get a flashing coaster-pager that alerts you when your order is ready and you can return to the counter to pick it up.

“Off-peak – before the lunch rush or late in the evening – you’ve got it made. Standard food preparation time is about 10 minutes. But if there’s a line, you could be out of luck. At best it takes about 90 seconds to two minutes to process an order; even if there are just 10 people in front of you, it will take 15 to 20 minutes just to order.

“So you could wait as much as a half-hour before you even start to eat. A lot of people don’t have lunch hours that long.”

All this is also true in 2022; wait times are similar. Of course, prices are not. For instance, Harrison reported fried catfish baskets were priced by the filet in 2002 – $ 3.75 for one, a buck more per each additional filet, $ 6.75 for a whole catfish. According to the menu posted at flyingfishinthe.net, today’s one-filet catfish basket costs $ 8.25, and the whole fish basket is $ 13.95.

Decor hasn’t changed in 20 years so much as intensified: The Liars Wall was mostly paint in 2002; today it’s covered up in photos. And today’s Billy Bass Adoption Wall has a much cleaner atmosphere. In 2002, that was a smoking section.

Lunchtime customers wait their chance to order beside the Liars Wall inside the Flying Fish on April 19, 2002. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

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