The friendly face of Brad McCray and cheery demeanor quickly give you the feeling that he’s the type of guy you’d like to grab a drink and take it easy with, and Brewski’s Pub & Grub is exactly the place to do that. However, the restaurant business isn’t easy, and McCray certainly hasn’t always had the chance to be laid-back. His story didn’t start with Brewski’s, nor was he an immediate success. But through perseverance, a bit of luck and a few close calls, he’s overcome the odds.

Brad McCray Brewski's


McCray was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, but his family moved to Little Rock when he was only five years old. His career in the food service industry began in the hallowed halls of Dixie Cafe (may they rest in peace). The family member that owned the Dixie Cafe owned another restaurant and catering service called the Blue Plate Special, which was the next stop in McCray’s food career, followed by a stint in catering at Brave New Restaurant. In 2004, McCray started his own catering business called Strictly Catering, mostly serving luncheons for the pharmaceutical industry. He had about $10,000, a van that broke down all too often, and just enough experience in the restaurant business to be dangerous, in McCray’s words.


In early 2005, he decided to try his hand at a full-service restaurant, which he named Erba, “and spectacularly failed at it,” McCray says.  “That restaurant lasted about eight months, and I always told myself, this is like my grad school right here. That was the hardest I’ve ever worked, and not only was I not making money from my work, I was actively losing money every day that I was working 18-hour days,” he recalls. There are times, it seems, where hard work just doesn’t pay. 


“As we were closing the restaurant, we knew we had to be out in like a week or so, and so the first thing we got rid of was the food. But we had all this bar inventory we had to get rid of, and I was pretty young at the time, so we just called up all of our friends and said, ‘Hey, drinks are like $1, $2, whatever, we just gotta get rid of all of this product.’ The last week we were open was the busiest we’d ever been.” McCray soon got another shot, though, and he decided to learn from his previous experiences and put more emphasis on the bar aspect.


“I was packing up, getting ready to vacate the location, and I didn’t really know what I was going to do – though I was going to have to find a job, obviously. But I still had all of this equipment that I had accumulated from the catering business and the restaurant. The Funny Bone comedy club in downtown Little Rock had closed down recently, so I called the property management [and] they leased that space to me.” From there, he opened – no, not Brewski’s yet – but a bar called On the Rocks. “I was really green in the bar business, but I still had all of my catering contacts, so we were still doing a lot of catering gigs,” and those helped them get the doors open and their feet under them.


Brad McCray


“We opened on Halloween of 2005,” McCray recalls. “We were so broke that I’m pretty sure that the beer order we ordered on Friday, I don’t know if we had the money to cover it. But we knew they weren’t going to cash the checks until Monday, and so we were like ‘Alright, we’ve got the weekend to just blow it out of the water’ and cover the costs we just incurred.” To help do that, they partnered with a rock station to promote the grand opening and hired a band called “Mini Kiss,” which was a Kiss cover band of little people in full costume and makeup. It paid off: The bar was packed, and they made enough money to clear the checks they had written a few days before. 


“It’s not something I’d recommend doing, because that was stressful as heck – you don’t want to be bouncing checks,” McCray jokes. “Not really knowing the bar business a whole lot, we were just kind of trying all the entertainment methods: We were doing karaoke, we were doing live music, then we started bringing some DJs and stuff on the weekends. We found some success there on the weekends, and On the Rocks kind of turned into a dance club.”


Brewski's Brad McCray

If you’re looking for a place to kick back with a drink, or two, look no further.


One of McCray’s business partners lived in the Conway area and wanted to start up a bar next to the University of Central Arkansas campus. Of course, that’s easier said than done, considering Conway is in a dry county. This was in 2008, when there were only one or two places in the county that had received a private club license to serve alcoholic beverages, so it wasn’t easy for a young man who had never lived in Conway to come in and get one to go right across the street from a college campus. Their first attempt was denied, but they later got into contact with some city officials and eventually got hold of a permit. Thus, Bear’s Den Pizza was born, and McCray is still the owner to this day.


Though On the Rocks was still doing well back in Little Rock, its lease ran out in 2010, and the owners of the location weren’t interested in renewing it. By this time, McCray was older, married and feeling a little burned out on the bar business. Instead, he went into commercial real estate while continuing to own Bear’s Den. One day, he had a meeting at Bear’s Den with a real estate developer who did business in Little Rock. The developer was impressed by the place and mentioned that one of his properties had a bar that wasn’t doing very well and wasn’t likely to last much longer. Then, in 2012, the occupants moved out, and McCray moved in. The original plan had been for a Jamaican-themed, full-service restaurant, but the partnership that idea relied on fell through. Instead, entertainment became the centerpiece, and it was renamed Club Level, a weekends-only, techno-noir nightclub. It was located on Main Street, but this was before real efforts had been made to redevelop the area; there was no Samantha’s or Bruno’s yet. 


Brewski's Brad McCray

Brewski’s offers a casual, Southern atmosphere with plenty of TVs tuned to sports channels and your typical bar food, but all made from scratch.


“We had girls swinging from silks from the ceiling, crazy light shows, CO2 blasters. We were doing whatever we could to put the most Vegas-esque nightclub in Little Rock, and it became hugely successful,” McCray recalls. “We were bringing a lot of people down to Main Street, and it was a lot of fun. To fast forward to why we became Brewski’s, as Club Level became popular, we noticed that everything around us really started to develop. Obviously not because of us – everyone was working to make Main Street really cool. All of a sudden, we started having full-service restaurants pop up right next door to us and across the street from us, then they put apartments across the street from us, and then apartments above us started to open up.


“We just felt like we were, one, underutilizing the space by being open on weekends only, and two, it may not be the best use of the space anymore, and we really wanted to have a brand that would have staying power and take advantage of the lunch and happy hour opportunities in the area. No matter how cool of a lunch menu we have, people just aren’t going to go to Club Level for lunch,” he says.


So, Club Level ceased to be, but in 2017, after a bit of remodeling, Brewski’s was born from its ashes. The founders took all the lessons they had learned from previous experiences with Club Level, On the Rocks, Bear’s Den and others, and combined the things they knew worked into what they believed would get them the most out of the space. The general aim was for it to be an all-American neighborhood bar that anyone could walk into and feel welcome – a casual, Southern atmosphere with plenty of TVs tuned to sports channels and your typical bar food, but all made from scratch. They also have a basement space, which is used for private events and popular for Christmas parties and also makes a great entertainment space to bring people in on the weekends.


In addition to building on the successes of its predecessors, Brewski’s has been successful because of an active attempt on McCray’s part to be more community-minded and do things like becoming involved with the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, joining their boards and committees, helping with the Main Street revitalization task force, the Food Truck Festival and anything else to help Brewski’s community. He explains that you really get out what you put in, and the Downtown Partnership has been a big part of Brewski’s success and the success of the area in general. 



Brewski’s was one of the lucky ones that managed the difficult feat of making it through the pandemic. Although its location downtown would normally be highly desirable, it meant that delivery was not a very viable business model. They closed down, but opened back up to operate at one-third and half capacity when they could, despite the fact that they knew they would lose money. When the announcement was made that bars and restaurants could go back to full capacity, they received no early warning, and took the full force of a recently quarantined public while only staffed for half capacity. Now, like everywhere else, staffing issues are still a problem, but they’re getting along and really doing better than ever.


Recent weeks have been the busiest the restaurant has ever seen, as people are eager to get out of their houses and back into the world. McCray is immensely proud of all of the roughly 45 people on his team, from managers to waiters to dishwashers. The establishment enjoys a great many regulars who come for happy hours or for entertainment on the weekends, and McCray has enjoyed watching downtown grow around him and helping Brewski’s to grow along with it. A few years ago, McCray had hoped to open a new Brewski’s location, but the pandemic shot those ideas down. Right now, he’s focusing on making the current location the best it can be, but he hasn’t given up hope on an additional location. Keep your eyes on the horizon, because if he gets the chance – and from previous experiences it sure seems like he will – then there may be another Brewski’s coming to a town near you.