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Bringing it Back Downtown with Yesdog Grill
by Audrey Hanes, photo by Kayla Broadway

When Yesdog Grill opened its doors in February, many heralded the return of well-known executive chef and restaurant owner Lisa Godsey’s creative flavors and celebrated dishes to 226 South Main St. Together with co-owners Traci Burgess and Tom and Jeannie Martin, Godsey is excited to bring her love of food back to the Downtown Jonesboro community.

Godsey spent a lot of time in the kitchen as a child, and her love for satisfying friends and family with her culinary creations has only grown since then.

“I have always loved cooking,” said Godsey. “My dad taught me how to make biscuits and gravy when I was a child. I remember standing on a stool next to him at the stove and helping him. From there, I would cook things and have people (and) family try it out. It really became a passion later in my late 20s.” 

She moved to Jonesboro in 2001, which is when she decided to open her own local eatery.

“Prior to Godsey’s Grill, we had Godsey’s Gourmet, which is really where it all began with catering and to-go foods,” said Godsey of the success she enjoyed with her original Jonesboro endeavor. “It allowed me to grow as a chef and truly find my passion.”

After leaving Godsey’s eight years ago, she worked around Jonesboro at several different places before being approached by Jeffrey Higgins. Five years ago, Godsey and Higgins opened JTown’s Grill together, which is where Godsey was cooking when she began talking with Tom and Jeannie Martin.

“I was approached by Jeannie and Tom; they own the building,” said Godsey of the Yesdog’s current location, which is also the former location of Godsey’s downtown. “I knew that Godsey’s had shut down, and I just wanted to come in and see it one last time. (Jeannie, Tom, Burgess and I) got to talking, and one thing led to another; we decided in October of last year that this was a move that all four of us wanted to make. This was what we wanted to do together. … The four of us together make the best ownership team that I’ve ever seen. Everyone has their role, but we all come together as one and make it all work.

“Coming back downtown, there was never a moment of, ‘We want to dominate.’ We wanted to come back downtown and be a part of the family – to be included with the other restaurants and businesses that are down here. I want all of us to be family. It was not an easy decision for me to leave JTown’s. That was something that was talked a lot about, and it was not easy, because I had helped to build that from day one, and that was hard.”

Once Godsey decided to return to Main Street and open another restaurant, which could not be called Godsey’s for legal reasons, a friend’s suggestion to call the new eatery Yesdog seemed like the perfect fit after the four owners realized it was the executive chef’s name spelled backwards.

“We left it pretty much as original as we could,” said Godsey. “We took what was here and improved upon it. I think we have really made it a place people enjoy coming.”

Patrons will be able to order many of the menu items they previously enjoyed, such as fresh pretzel buns, smoked wings, juicy burgers and wood oven pizzas, but there are also many new dishes and concepts on the menu.

“I wanted to bridge a gap between Skinny J’s and Omar’s Uptown; that’s where the menu came from,” said Godsey. “There was no middle ground downtown, so to speak. We brought a lot of stuff back, but a lot of it is new. The power bowls are a healthy option – people love those. The pizzas, of course, you can’t beat something cooked in an actual wood oven, and people are really loving the entrees, like the mahi mahi, the salmon and the steaks.”

Diners can start out with one of Yesdog’s popular “Snackums,” such as Pork Belly Burnt Ends, Goat Cheese Dip, Smokey Pimento Cheese Dip or Loaded Pork Dip, which is reminiscent of one of Godsey’s popular appetizers from her earlier days on Main Street.

Power Bowls are one of Godsey’s newer concepts and have been popular with many Yesdog customers who are looking for a healthy meal. The Mediterranean Power Bowl consists of roasted garlic chickpeas, farro, superfood salad greens, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, Feta cheese, red onions, EVOO and a lemon wedge; the Tahini Marinated Buddha Bowl is made with grilled chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, black beans and quinoa on a bed of superfood salad greens, served with a tahini dressing; and the Salmon Power Bowl is a mixture of quinoa, smoked salmon, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, roasted chickpeas and Feta cheese, all drizzled with a Tzatziki dressing.
 


Godsey has wowed diners with her new main dishes, as well. A favorite is the Blackened Stuffed Salmon, which is stuffed with a cream cheese, shrimp, bacon, spinach and Romano cheese stuffing and is finished with a lemon butter sauce. The Blackened Mahi Mahi Carbonara has also been very popular – blackened Mahi Mahi is served on a bed of avocado carbonara, topped with a fried egg and drizzled with a Cajun cream sauce. 

Juicy steaks, creative burgers, a variety of tasty sandwiches and the ever-popular wood oven-cooked pizzas round out Yesdog’s menu. And while the restaurant’s menu staples aren’t going anywhere any time soon, Godsey says that it’s important to her that the menu and what Yesdog offers to its patrons stays exciting and inspired.

“Everything I do revolves around food; it is my passion, and I am always learning,” she said. “We are toying around with the idea of a menu revision before the fall, and we are also toying around with the idea of opening for brunch only on Sundays.

“It’s like I’ve said before over and over again, a restaurant should never become stagnant. It should always continue to grow and evolve, and that’s what I want to try to do here. I want to take the menu and attempt to make it seasonal and put in new and different things in all aspects of the business. That’s why we run features every Friday and Saturday night.”

The ever-changing special events and happenings are another exciting new aspect of Yesdog. Customers can keep up with events by following the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram.

“We have taps takeover once a month, where someone will take over three taps with craft beer and beer from local breweries, and we do the same kind of special with wines,” said Godsey. “During those, we have giveaways like T-shirts and hats and things. We will try to coincide it with our Singo Bingo nights. We have live music, and we have karaoke the last Wednesday of every month. Follow us on Facebook and you’ll know what it is that’s going on, from the schedule to the menu.”

Whether it’s a relaxing dinner with the whole family or a business lunch, the four owners strived to make Yesdog a place where diners can relax and have fun.

“I remember how everybody loved the original Godsey’s,” said Jeannie. “When we wanted to go out to eat or have a drink with a friend, that’s where we always went, even before we owned the building. We have missed that. We wanted to bring that back – a place where you could go to spend time with friends and be with family who aren’t actually family but people you’ve known forever.”

That sense of family is something that was important to Godsey, too.

“We are here to make sure that our customers have fun and they get fed well,” she said. “We want everyone to come in and have a great time. One thing I’ve noticed is that people come in and eat, and then they linger. We absolutely love that. … We try to make it as interactive and fun and family-friendly as we possibly can. There’s a lounge area up front where kids can play. You’ll see Jeannie and Tom’s grandson running around, and my nephew, Luke. It’s a family. The staff is a family, and so is everyone who darkens the door.”

As far as Godsey’s culinary return to Downtown Jonesboro, the well-known chef says that it feels like she has come home.

“I know that everything in our lives leads us to the point of where we are supposed to be, and I’m thankful for everything that led me to where it is that I am right now,” she said. “My heart has always been in downtown. I’ve always loved downtown with a passion. I love the feeling that you can go out and chat with other business owners and see what’s going on. There’s so much in downtown to do. It’s a Main Street where people live and their lives are here, and with the shops that are opening and the new restaurants that are coming in, it’s thriving, it really is.”

For more information about Yesdog Grill, located at 226 South Main St., call (870) 938-0025, visit yesdoggrill.com or follow the restaurant on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.