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eleanor's pizzeria
by Cody Moore, photo by Amy Long

Expanding upon his success in Downtown Jonesboro, James Best is now giving local residents a slice of the Big Apple with his authentic New York style pizzeria, Eleanor’s, his latest addition on Main Street.

Best, one of the city’s most well-known restauranteurs, began his investment in Downtown Jonesboro when he relocated Skinny J’s to Main Street in 2010. Best opened the first Skinny J’s in Cash after returning home from Johnson and Wales Culinary School in Charlotte, N.C., with a vision to provide great food to the people of Jonesboro and the surrounding area. In anticipation of the new location opening, Best closed the original restaurant in October 2010.

While Skinny J’s packs the house each week with customers who return for its menu of salads, steaks, pasta, seafood and an extensive burger selection, opening a pizza joint has been on Best’s to-do list for years. A fan of New York-style pizza, the local chef wanted to make it available locally for both his family and his hometown community.

“I have always loved pizza and all kinds of Italian food and being able to make things from scratch, like the dough and the sauce,” said Best. “I wanted to bring a different style of pizza to Jonesboro, and that’s what I did.”

In addition to being a chef and entrepreneur, Best and his wife, Emily, have a 3-year-old daughter. The pizzeria was named for their daughter, Eleanor, whom they call Nora.

For now, however, Nora doesn’t quite understand that the restaurant was named for her. She simply believes “Eleanor” is her daddy’s pizza.

As far as Eleanor taking over the family business when she gets older, Best said he would not be opposed to that idea.

“My wish for my daughter is that she finds something she truly loves and enjoys and has a passion for,” said Best. “If that is taking over the family business, that would be great, but if it is something else, that’s also fine.”

While Eleanor may still be too young to understand the ins and outs of the pizzeria, the innovative restaurant is attracting pizza lovers from all over to Downtown Jonesboro under the leadership of general manager Eric Owens.

“Working downtown is an amazing experience with an even more amazing group of people,” said Owens. “Everyone loves an amazing pizza, and I believe we offer the best in town. It’s a great feeling to work at and with the best.”

House pies such as the Chicken Bacon Ranch, Pine and Swine, Keanu, Heat and The Eleanor are among the restaurant’s specialties. Customers can also choose to build their own pizza or salad from a list of premium toppings. Pepperoni or fennel sausage pizza is available by the slice daily, or customers may choose a slice of the daily special. The crowd favorite, as well as Best’s personal choice, is “The Eleanor,” a pizza that is perfectly crafted with pepperoni, sausage, pickled peppers and Kalamata olives, all piled on the homemade dough with pizza sauce.

Best is a man who is constantly on the move. When he’s not at one of his Downtown Jonesboro restaurants, it is likely that he is involved in one of his many other ventures. He built and owns a hunting lodge, has several farms that he works and leases out, and also operates a construction business with his brother called Best Brothers Construction.

After successfully expanding his Skinny J’s brand by opening new locations in Paragould and North Little Rock, Best is optimistic about growing Eleanor’s, as well. According to Best, he is just waiting for the perfect time and place to expand.

“The options are always limitless,” said Best, “I am always up for a challenge, so we’ll see what happens next. Who knows; maybe I’ll open a tacos and tequila joint, too.”

When opening the doors to Eleanor’s, Best said his goal was to have the customers love his products. Of course, like all restaurant owners, he wanted a busy store, but for him, hearing that the customers love and value the work that went into opening Eleanor’s makes him most grateful.

“I have enjoyed watching Downtown Jonesboro come to life over the past decade and wanted to help with the revitalization of this area” said Best. “Jonesboro is my home. I was born and raised here. I’m glad to be a part of adding to this community.”

Eleanor’s Pizzeria is located at 211 S. Main Street in Downtown Jonesboro. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, find Eleanor’s Pizzeria on Facebook.