Every morning, before the sun rises, 92 year old PaPa (Johnny Kara) starts making coleslaw, sauerkraut and horseradish sauce. Then he hand cuts and trims steaks, if that's what needs to be done. Nobody in the family knows what's in his coleslaw or kraut. He keeps the recipes in a notebook the rest of the family isn't allowed to touch.
That's how everyday starts at Kara's Packing Company on Highway 5 between Hot Springs and Benton. It's a little sandwich shop and grocery store you probably never noticed. Time magically swept past the cinderblock building years ago. As a result, the Polish Sausages, tamales, boudin and "Big Bologna Sandwiches" are just as they have been since 1969.
Johnny Kara moved to Arkansas from Chicago and he only knew one way of doing things. Years latter that's exactly how things are still being done on Highway 5.
Dozens of old family photos hang on the walls, but the thing that stands out the most.... Johnny Kara's outstanding handlebar mustache.
Without hesitating she'll smile and tell you stories about crazy folks and attempted robberies, as she asks what you want on your Polish.
A few years ago, a guy knocked PaPa out during a robbery, but the old man came to just in time to get his rifle and shoot out the back window of the truck.
Once a guy stole her mom's tip jar. He started to leave but Tosha's mom kicked the front door closed and said, "you're not leaving with my tip jar". Then the rest of the family arrived and PaPa had a 12 gauge. They held him at gunpoint till the cops arrived.
There was $1.25 in the tip jar. It's a family with guts, that's for sure.
While you wait for your lunch or dinner, check out the freezers full of the beloved specialty items Kara's has carried for years and years. The tamales come from Texas and Chicago, the boudin from Lake Charles, Louisiana and the Polish sausages are their own. If you end up buying some frozen food, they'll always give you a free cooler so you can get your delicious treasures home.
I ordered the beef tamales with cheese for lunch and they were amazing, seriously they were so good. Alex got a Polish, and holy cow! he let me have one bite then cut me off. I wanted the whole thing. Then between bites I asked him, "On a scale of 1-10 where are you with the Polish?"
He wiped the spicy mustard off his face and said, "Nine point eight."
"Why not a ten?"
"Heat up the bun for five seconds and it'll be a twelve." Then he finished his Polish without even sharing anymore.
If you're sick of chains, tired of restaurants and grocery stores all selling the same tasteless stuff. if you're looking for a joint and a family with heart and a story worth telling, stop by Kara's Packing Company. Take a road trip, have an adventure. Get you a Polish and go home happy.