Nov 7, 2023 - Food and Drink

Taco Talk: Sam M. Walton College of Business' Brent Williams

Brent Williams, interim dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Photos: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Worth here. I recently connected with Brent Williams, interim dean of the University of Arkansas' Sam M. Walton College of Business, at Taco & Tamale Co.'s newest spot in Fayetteville's South Yard.

The setup: The chain started several years ago in Little Rock, then expanded with a spot on the Bentonville square before coming to Fayetteville. The menu touts that it serves "Ark-Mex" fare.

  • Williams went straight for the chargrilled ribeye steak tacos with a cucumber salad as a side ($16.50).
  • I was attracted to the smoked pulled pork with white barbecue sauce and Delta-Q sauce with beans and rice ($15).
  • We split a plate of three Delta tamales ($7).

Driving the news: Williams was named interim dean in August after Matthew Waller stepped down from leading the college to return to teaching full time.

Catch up quick: At 47, Williams is the youngest person to fill the role in recent memory. Some could see that as a negative, but he has two children in the early to near-college age range, so Williams feels he grasps what his students most need.

  • Keeping graduates in Arkansas is a priority but requires a good connection with in-state corporations, he said.
  • Williams encourages leaders at companies in the state like J.B. Hunt, Tyson and to hire interns, get on campus and partner with the college on projects.

By the numbers: Undergraduate enrollment is up 87% — from 4,450 in 2013 to 8,333 this year.

Graduate enrollment is up from 389 to 586 in a decade — nearly 51%.

The bottom line: Despite growing numbers, there's room for more students, Williams said. Supply chain management is a focus area for the college — not just because of his background, but because NWA is a prime location due to its "big three" large public companies: J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

Yes, but: Entrepreneurship will continue to be a front-burner item, too, he said.

The verdict: Brent and I both loved the tamales. They had a flavorful kick.

  • The steak was good, he said, along with the cucumber salad.
  • I enjoyed the Delta-style pork tacos with tender meat and loads of complementary flavors.
  • They challenged my preconceived notions of a taco, but at the same time were familiar — a lot like spending time with Williams.

📌 Taco Talk is a regular feature. We sample a taqueria with the movers, shakers, artists and bakers of NWA, and rap about news in their world.

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