Friday, November 18, 2011

The Floating Lotus
A dozen years ago, Cassandra Smith fell in love with yoga, and now folks in Little Rock are falling in love with her yoga studio, The Floating Lotus.

"I just love Cassandra," Pam Rusch of Little Rock said. "I started going when she opened her studio about two years ago, so I've been with her from almost the beginning. I always look forward to going. It's so warm and welcoming. I always feel really good after I leave. I've just become addicted to The Floating Lotus and Cassandra."

Ms. Rusch said she'd always been active and was a runner until an injury brought her to yoga.

"I just turned 54, and I feel stronger and healthier than I have ever felt in my life, and I've always exercised. Yoga is my real passion now," Pam said.

When Ms. Smith graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway in 1998, she was athletic too, but she was looking for a different type of exercise that was more calming and "not so harsh."

Cassandra bought a book about yoga and began practicing at home.

"After six months, I felt like I really needed guidance. I started taking classes with Katherine Rogers at Barefoot Yoga."

Then she began workshops and worked with other instructors.

"I started really falling in love with it."

Ms. Rogers told Cassandra that she should teach, and she took the advice and became certified in 2000. Then, she studied with a number of yoga instructors who were coming to Arkansas to teach in the early part of the decade, and later became "big names" in the yoga community. Later, she took individual instruction with Shiva Rea in California.

"There comes a point when you need to study with one person. Shiva has a background in dance, and I love dance. I met her in 2001, and knew she was the person I wanted to study with."

Cassandra began working at different gyms and day spas in 2008 and opened The Floating Lotus in 2009. Recently, she relocated the studio to a bright, colorful new space at 900 North University.

"Business has been good, very good, especially with the new digs, The space is very inviting, very welcoming."

Alana Tyson of Little Rock enjoys her classes at the new location. "Now she has this new, huge space. It's really gorgeous."

Ms. Tyson likes Cassandra's teaching style too.

"I think her style is kind of structured. She's got an intention in mind, and she works to help you get there. She teaches very gently, and she explains what is happening. You get a lot of information while you learn the poses. She tells you 'why.' I like knowing why. I think she invests in your foundational learning," Alana said.

She had attended other yoga classes that were sort of "free floating," where she was instructed to do one pose and then another, but with no real sense of progress. "Working with Cassandra, it's like we are moving toward the intended goal."

Cassandra said the practice of yoga has many benefits, including stress reduction, improved strength and flexibility, and the gaining of self knowledge. She said the Sanskrit word "yoga" literally means "yoke," from a root word meaning to unite or join.

"The practice helps settle the mind and enables you to get in touch with your body. You connect with your body in a way that is just not possible running on a treadmill and watching TV at the same time. Yoga turns the satellite dish inward. It allows you to come into your own body and experience what is there."

The physical movement of the poses helps to put you in a better mental place for meditation, she said.

"If someone comes to yoga to get more flexible, to lose some weight - whatever brings them, it's great. To just sit and meditate, that's so hard. The mind is like a brand new puppy. Tell it to sit, stay - you have to train the mind. If you go through the poses, you can come into a place where you can sit and meditate. You will be clearheaded, calm and relaxed. The poses prepare you for meditation."

The first class at The Floating Lotus is free.

"The first class is always free, and the reason I do that, in my journey, and I have been teaching for 11 years, I hear these negatives associated with it. Often times I find it's a Type A personality who went to a Iyengar class, which is a long, slow class with a focus on body alignment. But for them, that's not going to speak to them. I wanted it to be a free experience. Maybe it's for them, maybe it's not. The free class is a welcoming for the community to just be able to experience it for the first time. They are not out anything."

Cassandra teaches vinyasa flow yoga, which has much more movement than lyengar. She and other instructors at The Floating Lotus also offer restorative, therapeutic, and "hot" yoga. During hot yoga, the temperature in the studio is turned up to help muscles open up and stretch better.
The other yoga instructors there are: Mary Anne Wildman, who has been with Cassandra for two years and also offers physical therapy at the studio; Emma Gray, who has been there for a year; and Kali Empl, who started teaching there in July.

Cassandra said you need no special equipment to practice yoga. Just bring yourself.

Unlimited classes are $65 a month. There is no contract, and you may begin at any time during the month. A four-day class pass for use during one month is $40. A six-day class pass for use during a two-month period is $60. An 11-day pass for use during four months is $100. It's $13 to just drop in for a class.

Yoga classes are not the only adventures at The Floating Lotus. It's also an organic day spa offering facials, physical therapy, massage, waxing and eyelash extensions. It carries Eminence Organics, an organic skin care line that has been available since 1958.

Cassandra, who received her esthetician license in 2005, really enjoys doing facials. "I like to put people in a relaxed state. When I do a facial, people usually fall asleep."

Facials offered there include deep cleaning organic, biodynamic organic, Eminence paprika, Eminence yam and pumpkin enzyme peel, "fire and ice" with natural fruit acids, gentleman's facial, back facial, and ultrasound facial.

Microdermabrasion is available, as well as LED therapy, which is a non-invasive light treatment that reduces the signs of aging and promotes collagen production.

You can also avail yourself of wraps, Shirodhara warm oil therapy, and ultrasound skin treatments.

Massage services include Swedish, pre- and post-natal, sports, aromatherapy, deep tissue, hot stone, and reflexology. Pre- and post-natal massage is done by Kenley Throgmartin, a labor and delivery nurse at a Little Rock hospital.

For detailed information about spa services and prices, visit
Don't you need a bit of relaxation and healing in your life? A little bliss? Call Cassandra at 664-0172 or 940-9642 or e-mail

Getting to Know Cassandra Smith

Cassandra Smith

What's your favorite Little Rock restaurant? I really like Sushi Cafe.

What's your favorite movie? Billy Elliot. It's an English film about a young boy who lost his mother. His coal miner father sends him to a boxing gym, where he stumbles onto a ballet class. He wants to learn ballet. It's about loving someone for what is their true nature. There's this moment at an audition when they ask him what he feels when he dances. He says, 'Like a bird, like I'm free, like electricity.' That's what yoga feels like.

Do you have favorite actors? Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to do? Oh, yeah. Lots of things. I would like to learn to write ... to tell a story more poetically.

Where were you born? Beebe, Arkansas.

How long have you lived in Little Rock? Since 1998.

Where did you go to school? Beebe and then UCA.

Where do you live? West Little Rock.

Tell us about your family. My mother lives in Beebe with my stepdad, and my father lives in Hot Springs with his wife. (Both couples) have great relationships with the other. I'm very blessed with that.

What's your favorite city? Venice Beach, California. I love that area. I go and do my teacher training out there. The beach is right there. It's like my own little slice of heaven.

Do you have any pets? I have two dogs. Jager is a 12-year-old Weimaraner, and Frank is two years old. He's a mixed breed.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Walk my dog and cook. I walk Frank. Jager is too old to walk.

Do you have a favorite writer? Tom Robbins and David Sedaris.

What do you like to watch on the tube? I love anything on HBO. Their shows are just phenomenal. And I'm really into Terra Nova.

What would you do if you won a large lottery? Give it all away. Secure the future for any future child, and, then, build my mom a house. I'd invest in seeing my mom happy, and, then, laying it out for different causes.

What are your favorite charities? CARE for Animals and Our House.

Do you have a favorite book? The Autobiography of a Yogi, by Yogananda. It is really one of the most profound books I've ever read from the aspect of spirituality.

If you could have a dream dinner party and invite any three people, who would you choose? Yogananda. I would love to be in his presence. the Dalai Lama and the Buddha. I would have a dinner party surrounded by great spiritual thinkers.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011



Fourteen years ago this November, Ella Carol Hunt opened her popular Caracalla Spa in the Heights.

For two years prior, Ms. Hunt had carefully planned out the spa after having visited a number of day spas around the country. Since opening Caracalla, planning and developing spas has become her forte, and she's helped a number of spa owners get their businesses off the ground.

For the Little Rock spa, everything was painstakingly detailed towards fulfilling her vision. That included installing surgical lighting, providing a double water filtration system to ensure the purest water, and selecting the name, "Caracalla." Ella, who has some Italian ancestry, has visited Italy several time for hair shows. Later, she became enamored of the famous Caracalla spa outside of Rome, because it was "democratic."

"It was the first in recorded history for everyone, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated. They had areas where kids were taught. There were healers. It was so large, it was just enormous."

The bath complex could accommodate more than 1,600 people at a time. The site also had two public libraries and a number of shops.

Ella wanted that democratic feel, not just a spa that catered to the elite. And she wanted it to be integrated into the community.

"It was born out of not doing something fancy. When we opened the spa, we wanted more of a community feeling. I don't like attitudinal hair salons.

"I didn't like a lot of the spas I visited, especially in the South. I had to dress up to impress them ... . They had it right longer ago. It should be about customers being served."

For her, the name "Caracalla" denoted a willingness "to heal, to serve."

"That's what took my breath away about the name," she said. "Even though we are in the Heights, and the Heights is old money, it's a beautiful, relaxing atmosphere. It's not stuffy, not highbrow.

"It's not about you being beautiful when you come in. It's about us doing for you. It should be about the customer - always."

Caracalla has two associates who do facials, two who do manicures and pedicures, four body workers, and seven stylists.

"The quality of our hair stylists is amazing."

She loves the fact that a stylist has the opportunity to make a client feel better. You have the opportunity as a hair stylist to make someone feel great - not just creating a beautiful hair style, but by being a friend in a pleasant atmosphere and teaching a client how to maintain a look with quality products.

"No one is paid commission on products. If they recommend it, it's because they truly want to help your hair be better."

As an aside, Ella said that although many salons are still offering the "Brazilian blowout," Caracalla will not do the procedure.

"The Brazilian blowout is seriously poison," she warned, adding that one of her stylists wound up in the hospital from breathing the fumes. Her spa now offers a natural relaxer instead.

Caracalla offers extensive massage services, including Reiki, hot stone massage, sports massage, pre-natal massage and couples massage.

"Michael Dawn is a bodyworker who worked for us for years, and he was the 'most popular' massage therapist we ever had. He is back! He moved to Kealakekua, Hawaii, for five years and worked at one of the top national spas in America called the Hawaii Healing Ohana. It has been ranked in the top 10 nationwide!"

Speaking of top rankings, Caracalla 's body wraps are winners too.

"We won a national award for our body wraps, because they are hand-made from organic flowers and materials. We don't use anything that is 'store bought.'

"We do some really nice body scrubs with Dead Sea salts and hand-made organic oils and flowers."

Ella makes the ingredients herself.

"I don't buy anything in a tub. It costs me more time and money, but that's the beauty of it and what makes me want to keep doing this.

"We sell our products nationwide. They are all organic, and we've done really well with them."

The manicurists there offer the new shellac gel nail polishes that are not only good for your nails, but last for about three weeks.

Folks who perform facials have a new tool, LED lamps, that are quite beneficial, she said.

And, she said her body work associates are "just fabulous."

"We have the two best wax people in the world. They are wonderful. People just love them."

And when someone doesn't have a good experience at Caracalla, Ella encourages them to e-mail her. The spa offers "so sorry" gifts. "We want to admit we made a mistake and correct it."

In addition to the spa services, Caracalla offers vintage items at Christmas and lots of jewelry year round.

"All of the jewelry we sell is hand-made by individual artisans I connect with. And the hair clips. This stuff I love. You get to know the people who create it, and you're helping feed the little guy."

That's a nice touch, because Ella started out as one of those young artists trying to make ends meet.

After studying art at Fayetteville, she worked as an artist and was successful, having exhibited in The Delta. Convinced that she needed another vocation to help support her art, she decided to go to barber school and then trained as a stylist too.

"I thought I'd get in and get out and support my art, but I just loved it. It really is much more fascinating and complex than you would think."

Ella worked as a stylist for 13 years at one salon, and was happy there, but felt like there was more out there for her.

"I had been there, done that, learned as much as I could and was ready to venture out and take a big step."

She studied spas for two years and saved her money. In addition, she sold her home. "I am not married and had no family money.

"I went to every spa you can name out West and down South and some in the East."

Ella took the best from what she saw and came up with lots of innovations of her own, such as her on-line scheduling system created by local software engineer Troy Rinker. It allows the staff to check and shuffle appointments from home computers or I-phones.

She also pre-adds tax into the total price of products and services for the convenience of customers. And she's tried hard to be an integral part of the neighborhood.

"We are now opening up a space for community gatherings. We will offer it to businesses and individuals at minimum to no money. We have seating up to 24. Anybody interested can e-mail me at"

Associates at Caracalla will be teaching free classes there too on such subjects as how to stretch and yoga.

"I really want to serve all. Giving back to the community really means everything to me."

Ella said Caracalla went through a stressful phase for a time, when associates were leaving, and she was struggling to learn how to be a better manager.

"I'm not good at management, I'm good at design," she said frankly.

Now she feels the spa has turned the corner.

"Caracalla is going through a huge transition. It's becoming this incredible place. One of the things I've noticed, really great people keep walking in the door.

"The last three associates we hired are all three past business owners ... . Rhonda Bauman owned a day spa/salon, and Anna Hoerrmann owned a salon. Stephanie Johnson is in the corporate department and owned a salon and day spa in Woodstock, Georgia. So she brings so much knowledge to the table, it benefits all of us!

"It just feels like a family there now. I feel like this might be my favorite time at Caracalla. I am grateful. It is turning into what I always wanted it to be."

Story by Bobbi Nesbitt in the August 2011 issue of Shoppe Talk.

Check out Caracalla on Facebook and on the web at

Ella Carol Hunt Profile

Ella Carol Hunt

Tell us about your family. I have a sister who is a chef. My brother is a doctor, and I have a sister who works with me.

You said you have no children and are not married. Do you have an extended family of friends? My best friend is Cathy Browne. She and her husband are the owners of Hank's Fine Furniture. I met her in Florida. My massage therapist there said, there's someone here from Arkansas you should meet. I was really not interested, but we met, and now we are best friends. My other best friend I met over the internet, Nancy Hopkins. (Ella said their common interest was Borzoi dogs.) She's helped me learn a lot about dog language. I have two best friends who work for me, Meredith Hawkins and Don Edwards. And Quendy Gaither, who worked here for 13 years. She moved to Fort Smith to teach school and get married.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to do? Be a better boss. I just don't think I've learned the joy of bossing. I don't even like the word "boss." I like "leader." To me, they are not staff, they are associates.

Where do you live? In the Heights.

What's your favorite city? New Orleans and San Francisco.

What would you do if you won a large lottery? I would open up a small retail business, mostly green, on a beach in Florida.

What do you like to read? I end up reading a lot about management stuff. I like self-improvement books. I love reading Cesar Millan's books. Two of my favorite books on business that have been great tools for me are Why We Buy and Corporate Lifecycles.

Who's your favorite writer? Vita Sackville-West.

Where were you born? Columbus, Georgia. I grew up in Florida on the panhandle.

Do you have any pets? Luther, a Borzoi. He's the first dog I've ever had in my life. He's such an amazing creature. (She ran him in a recent competition in Texas.) I haven't ever trained a dog, and he took two places and was the best in show.

Do you have any hobbies? Running my dog, fishing, hiking and swimming.

What's your favorite food? Mexican.

Is there anything you would not eat? I'm not big on clams - anything mushy - clams, oysters, squid.

What's the most unusual thing you have in your fridge? Quendy Gaither made these cookies, and one was a snowman. He's about three inches long and he lives in there. He's like controlling the refrigerator. He's always there for me when I open the door.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Cesar Millan, the Dalai Lama, and John Lennon.

What do you like to watch on the tube? I am a big fan of Suze Orman. I watch Cesar Millan. I love NOVA and Antiques Road Show and Til Debt Do Us Part.

Do you support any charities? Our favorite charity is the Little Rock Humane Society, and we give to a non-kill shelter out west. And we supported Brad Pitt's charity for New Orleans.

Is there anything you'd like to see Little Rock do differently? I appreciate the fact they did the bike paths and dog areas, and the Big Dam Bridge is awesome. I'd like to see those kinds of things in all areas of town. It gives a comradely safe feeling. It makes people feel more loved and safe and encourages health.

The nation? Let's start it all over.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Home Therapy

My Home Therapy in the Heights

Felicia Watkins' My Home Therapy in the Heights offers the services of an upscale spa - at a fraction of the price.

From her detoxifying and moisturizing body treatments - think French Green Seaweed Clay Wrap - to facials, powerdermabrasion, alpha hydroxy peels, hair removal, massage and lash extensions.

When Ms. Watkins' clients talk about her work, they rave about her skills, and when they talk about her, they use words like "personable," "professional," "thoughtful," "sweet,"
and "a blessing."

Fefe demonstrates the ancient
Chinese art of cupping on her
son, Wallace. Cupping uses
a vacuum to localize healing.

A while back, Janice Stanford of Gastroenterology Associates noticed one of Felicia's specials for massage and decided to give it a try.

"I was very pleased," Ms. Stanford, a Heights' resident, said, adding that she'd been to a number of massage therapists and Felicia ranked "at the very top."

"I've recommended her to a number of people. If you haven't gotten one of her massages, you need to. I am seated all day long at a computer. (Her massage) just really relaxes me and helps work a lot of kinks out.

"She's very personable. She makes sure the client is comfortable and their needs are getting met. I am just real pleased with her. I think she's excellent."

Darry Teeter of Little Rock was in a motorcycle accident in March that left him wheelchair bound, and Felicia goes to his home for his massage therapy.

"She's been a blessing in recovery," Mr. Teeter said. "She went the extra mile to make sure I was safe getting on the massage table.

"She's very thoughtful and thorough. She's a sweet person, a good person."

Darry said he has achieved about 50 percent recovery in his shattered lower leg and now can walk with a walker.

When Felicia, nicknamed "Fefe," was deployed in Iraq during 2006 to 2008, often she gave females in her unit neck and shoulder massages. They were wowed by her talents and advised her to work as a massage therapist when she went home.

Fefe has a quite diverse background, having served in the military for 17 years working in computers, phone technology and satellites. When she returned home to Arkansas, she could have opened a shop employing those technical skills. But she chose massage therapy instead as her second career. "I saw this as an opportunity to meet other people."

Before she was even stateside, she had called Arkansas and enrolled in the Touching America School of Massage Therapy.

Today, she provides a number of different massage therapies at her office at 5018 Club Road, including Swedish, oncology, prenatal, deep tissue, sports, and trigger point. In addition, she does activated isolated stretching, acupressure, aromatherapy and hot stones.

The different types of massage all start at $45 for 45 minutes.

"I offer free hot stones with all my massages," Fefe said.

Also, she offers a target massage, which is 30 minutes of intense massage focusing on your problem areas for $35, but it is $25 for new clients.

Andrea Butler of Little Rock likes Felicia's services so much that she obtained some of her coupons to hand out to friends.

Ms. Butler likes to get her eyebrows and legs waxed there.

"She's really good at her job. She knows what works and how to keep the skin from being red. I used to do the threading at the mall. But threading is painful, and (Fifi's waxing procedure) lasts a lot longer," Andrea said. "I like the privacy. Her room is nice and quiet. Other places, you have people looking at you, but there it's really calming and relaxing.

"And I like the area. After I get finished, I visit the little shops in the area."

In Arkansas, one must be licensed for such procedures as hair removal and the use of acids in facials, so after Fefe trained as a massage therapist, she studied aesthetics at Bee Jay's in Little Rock to earn that needed license.

The hair removal she offers is:
Full Legs - $50 Half Legs - $30
Full Arms - $30 Half Arms - $20
Under Arm - $15 Bikini - $20
Back or Chest - $30 Stomach - $20
Hands or Feet - $10 Lip/Chin/Neck - $10
Eyebrow $10 Cheek - $10

A 20 percent discount is also available if you do more than three areas.

The skin care treatments Fefe offers are extensive.

Her basic facial is $40. All of her facials include steamed hot towel treatments with neck, shoulder, arm and hand massage.

A deep facial is $70 and includes skin consultation, deep cleansing, massaging, facial scrub, extractions, steam treatment and a mask followed by toning and moisturizer.

There's a "tender years facial" for girls ages 16 and younger that includes instruction on skin care and make-up application, a discussion about home products that may be used for a fraction of the cost, and an eyebrow wax (with permission from mom).

Single peel facials are $95, Vitamin C infusion facials are $85, and double peel facials are $120. In addition, she offers an acne clearing facial, a men's facial, and a treatment for in-grown facial hairs.

Fefe does seven different masks that range from $5 to $25.

Now that your face is absolutely beautiful, check out the body treatments.

How would you like to be "scrub'n butter'd"? This treatment stimulates circulation and removes dead skin cells, leaving you with radiant skin. You can be scrubbed and buttered in various scents from chocolate to champagne and roses.

How about a Dead Sea mud masque with clays that will soothe and cleanse you? Or a French red clay mask? "This blend purges toxins, leaving the skin soft and re-mineralized with a noticeable glow. Vitamin E, grape seed, bladderwrack, Irish moss, and sage essential oils are infused into Sedona clay and French red clays, rich in magnesium, Vitamins A, B, B12, E, iron and amino acids," her website states.

The French green clay-seaweed wrap was mentioned at the top of the story. Add to that a garden mint algae wrap and a "sensitive wrap," for women with sensitive skin or who are allergic to shellfish.

If you are so inclined, there are packages that may be bought to acquire additional discounts on multiple services.
Asked how business is going, Fefe said, "Business is AWESOME!"

As a matter of fact, she is planning to offer a number of new services, including teeth whitening, laser hair removal, tattoo removal, photo facials that reverse skin damage and sunless tanning.

Asked about her business philosophy, Fefe said, "My business is built on honesty."

She wants to provide needed services to everyone at reasonable rates and believes that working folks need and deserve her services just as much - or maybe more - than the more pampered in our society.

"Everyone needs to relieve stress and find ways to help them be more beautiful. It's a confidence booster."

Fefe works by appointment only. 541-4070.

This story was written by Bobbi Nesbitt and first appeared in the July 2011 edition of Shoppe Talk.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Jewelry Shop in Hillcrest

John Eric Coleman's
Hillcrest Designer Jewelry

Fresh, chic, trendy, unique. If that's the kind of jewelry you love, do yourself a favor and stop by John Eric Coleman's Hillcrest Designer Jewelry.

Mr. Coleman, who opened his shop the last half of April at 3000 Kavanaugh Blvd., in Hillcrest, makes exquisite pendants, bracelets, rings and earrings that embody his long-standing love of stones, gems and metals.

In addition to the custom pieces, Eric offers diamonds, traditional wedding sets, appraisals and repairs.

"I can beat anybody's price on diamonds," he said.

Eric worked as a diamond broker for a number of years in Texas and was graduated from the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology in Paris with degrees in gemology and jewelry technology.

Eric, who lives in Little Rock with his wife, Catherine, and son, Cross, fell in love with stones when he was a child.

"When I was a kid, it started off on the porch where I was taking rocks and cracking them open."

There was treasure there. And then one Christmas, he received a rock tumbler. "It came with a set of stuff to make jewelry."

That was fun, but what he really wanted to do was to be a geologist. While other kids were getting into dinosaurs, video games, and Dungeons and Dragons, Eric was fascinated with minerals, rocks and different kinds of gem stones from around the world.

When he was 22, he began making jewelry in a serious way when he worked in South Arkansas. "I was working for an older gentleman as an apprentice for about three years. We specialized in hand fabricating. We also did wax carving."

Now Eric works in platinum, gold, silver and copper. His custom creations, which he calls his "therapy jewelry," range from $100 to $5,000.

But what he really wants to do is be your personal jeweler. He said he's "old school," and can take care of an individual's needs from creating to re-setting and repairing. He works with traditional pieces and can accommodate you, from a sweet sixteen necklace to a diamond/platinum combo for your 70th anniversary.

The feel of the shop is like a boutique in an upscale tourist area. In fact, he has sold his jewelry in different galleries in Hot Springs. Look in the trays of loose stones in the Hillcrest shop and enjoy the wow factor of nature's artistry. Lots of nice quartz, such as clear stones shot through with golden fibers. These one-of-a-kind pieces may be incorporated into your own designs.

And like every other jewelry shop owner in the world, Eric is buying gold and silver. At $1,500 an ounce at this writing, now is a good time to get rid of those broken or odd gold chains or pieces you'll never wear again.

Go by and welcome Eric to the neighborhood and watch for his grand opening this month. For additional information, call him at 246-3655.

By Bobbi Nesbitt

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Murray Haupt of Capitol Automotive

Murray Haupt

Murray Haupt of Hillcrest is an interesting guy. He's the owner of Capitol Automotive and several other business ventures. He's chairman of the board of an alcohol and drug rehab center in Heber Springs and sits on the board of another non-profit in Little Rock. Many women would envy his wife, SuAnn, because he calls her the most beautiful woman in the world. His favorite movie is a romantic comedy, and his favorite thing to watch on the tube is UFC cage fighting. He rides a motorcycle and likes to get his hands dirty doing a challenging auto repair job. He played in a rock and roll band at The Cavern in Liverpool when he was a teenager. More than 50 shows. Oh, and did I mention that he owns a fire truck?

Capitol Automotive Inc., 817 South Izard Street (on the corner of 9th Street and Izard), is a full-service mechanical repair and auto body collision shop. It is the culmination of Mr. Haupt's life-long fascination with cars.

"I've been a mechanic my whole life. I'm a car freak," Murray said.

"The first car my parents gave me, I took the motor out."

His parents, Bill and Jackie Haupt, had given their son an MG 1000 sedan only to return home one day and find the motor in pieces strewn around their carport.

"My mother came home, and she liked to have had a heart attack. That was the first time I did it too. (Took apart a motor.) There was nothing wrong with it. I just took it out to see how it worked."

His mom bet his father that Murray would never get the motor back together. She lost the bet.

"I'm mechanically inclined; it just comes natural to me."

Murray with shop dog, Bandit

Capitol Automotive has been in its current location for more than three years. Before that, it was called Little Rock Automotive Center, but Murray changed the name to reflect the fact that the business was so close to the State Capitol. In addition to mechanical and auto body repair, a subsidiary of Capitol Automotive is Little Rock Auto Sales, a licensed dealer in pre-owned vehicles.

"Quite honestly, I think we are probably the best kept secret in Little Rock," Murray said.

"In my business, people are pretty naive, and there are a lot of people who are taken advantage of. I try to be fair in our pricing. I offer basically an unlimited warranty. My customers, if something goes wrong, I take care of it. I don't charge a diagnostic fee. My existence in Little Rock all these years has been based on our business practices."

"I think if a person spends money with you, you are basically married. You owe them as much as they owe you."With restored 1968 Mustang Coupe 289

James Swindoll, a Little Rock attorney, said he'd been taking his cars to Murray for about 15 years.

"I get excellent service. Murray has kept all of my cars running for all of my family for all these years, and I have four kids. Murray helped me get cars for everyone of them," Mr. Swindoll said.

"He's a quality guy. I started out a kind of poor, but honest lawyer, and he's always been fair with me. We've had major and minor repairs. He's really a nice guy. If you need to know something about a car, call Murray. He can fix it for you or find it for you."

Mike Rebick of Little Rock, general manager of a copy machine business, also called the 10 or so years of service he's gotten at Capitol Automotive "excellent."

"He's fixed a lot of difficult to diagnose problems and has done body work on collisions," Mr. Rebick said. "He pretty much tries to get things out in a timely fashion. Stuff doesn't sit over there like some other places."

The 8,000-square-foot repair area of Capitol Automotive includes a state-of-the-art paint booth, as well as in-house paint mixing and tinting equipment.

"We do complete auto repair and service on any make or model. We've got the equipment to do 99% of the cars out there. Be fair, and do a good job. That's our business philosophy," Murray said.

"My business is 85% word-of-mouth."

He has several customers who have been with him for more than 20 years. He remembers the name of his very first customer, Carol Kennedy, who remains a customer to this day.

Another of his customers, Diane McKim of North Little Rock, neatly sums up what many others say: "He's just honest and dependable and will bend over backwards to accommodate customers."

Mrs. McKim said she's known Murray for about 10 years, during which time he's done a number of minor repairs, major body work, and sold autos to her family.

"He's always a very reasonable price and very quick. I've gotten same-day service; if it's within his power, he will. Plus, I bought a vehicle from him for my daughter. She probably put 150,000 miles on that car, and it was still running when she totaled it. About last week, she and her finance bought another car from him. And they love, love, love it. He checks them (the vehicles) out and knows what he's selling.

"Murray has helped me out many times."

Murray is a busy fellow. In addition to Capitol Automotive, he is a co-partner of K & M Capital, which owns and leases commercial real estate. He is also chairman of the board for the Sugarloaf Center in Heber Springs, Arkansas, a state-licensed alcohol and drug treatment center. And he sits on the board of the non-profit Firehouse Hostel & Museum. (Google This Is Arkansas to read more about this interesting group, or visit

Murray said the Sugarloaf Center is one of the premier treatment facilities in Arkansas and has been used as a model for other rehab centers in the state.

"My director up there, Kelly Shelton, the state has her do talks with other facilities to teach them the right way to do it, and she talks with schools to raise drug awareness and tell about the options there are in Arkansas as far as treatment and rehabilitation."

Before coming to Arkansas, Murray worked as a sales rep for a large California company that imports and distributes carburetors. Then he opened an auto repair shop there in 1984.

"In 1987, my parents, I thought at that point, were getting elderly. So I moved my family back to Arkansas. I thought my parents were getting elderly, but mother passed away last July, and father is 90 and going strong. He's still driving and lives by himself. So I probably didn't need to move back quite that quick, but I'm glad I did."

Murray has several employees at Capitol Automotive, but he's hands-on at the shop. "I still like to get dirty if it's something I like to do. I like to get in there and make things run."

He also likes to buy and resell autos. And he sells motor cycles, trailers and RVs.

"I sell just about anything that rolls. I have my very own fire truck, a 1974 Howe, for which my wife almost divorced me. She thought I'd lost my mind completely."

And what possessed him to buy a fire truck?

"I looked in the paper on Sunday. I drove to Bradford, Arkansas, gave the man the money, and drove it home."

Eventually, he said, the fire truck will probably end up at the Firehouse Hostel & Museum.

Owning a fire truck is only one unique page in Murray's life. When he was a sophomore in high school, his family moved to Southport, England, and he ended up performing at The Cavern Club.

"I used to play in a rock and roll band called 'In Transit,' and we used to play on a regular basis at The Cavern where the Beatles were discovered."

The Liverpool club is where Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles performing; the group's musical exploits there made the club famous during the 1960s.

"I played in The Cavern probably 50 times. I've met a lot of rock stars in my life."

Isn't it fun getting to know the folks in our community - like Murray - who build things, repair stuff, and keep us functioning tip top; who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty; and who take the time to get involved and to help others?

To get in touch with Murray, call 370-5099; or his lovely wife, SuAnn, owner of Simply Seafood, at 519-7515.

(This story was written by Bobbi Nesbitt and first appeared in the February 2011 edition of Shoppe Talk.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Profile: Getting to know Murray Haupt

Murray Haupt

Tell us about your family. I am one of five children. I have three sisters and one brother. I am the luckiest man in the world, because I have the most beautiful wife in the world, SuAnn. I have two sons, Will and Shane. I have a charming stepson named Nick and a stepdaughter named Erin.

Where do you live? On Ridgeway in Hillcrest.

Where were you born? Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What's your favorite Little Rock restaurant? So.

What do you like to do in your spare time? We like to camp. We love to go to the lake. We just bought a house on top of Petit Jean mountain. We go to Heber, and to Ouachita both. We're big outdoors people. We love the outdoors. I love to ride my motorcycle.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to do? I'd love to learn how to fly an airplane, but I'm scared to death. Pretty much anything else I want to do, I do. Perhaps skydiving. Perhaps in tandem with my wife. Honey, would you go skydiving with me? (SuAnn from the other room: Absolutely not.)

What's your favorite movie? Pretty Woman.

Do you have favorite actors? Sam Elliott and Julia Roberts.

What do you watch on the tube? I love UFC cage fighting. It's mixed martial arts. I mean these guys try to kill each other. It is very popular, as popular as boxing. I watch Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions and Mecum Auctions; it's called "muscle cars and more." I watch the usual - Grey's Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters. I watch a lot of TV. I love Nascar.

If you could have a dream dinner party, who would you invite? I would ask George Washington ... Douglas MacArthur, Madame Curie, and Howard Hughes.

What kind of music do you like? I'm a huge blues fan. I like country too, and real rock and roll - old school rock and roll.

What is your favorite food? I like fish. That's a revelation that's come only in the past few years. I like tuna, talipia, and since my wife owns a seafood company, it's pretty easy to go over and steal a tuna steak out of the freezer. Seafood. I like shrimp and crab too. (SuAnn is owner of Simply Seafood.)

Is there anything you'd like to change about yourself? My intensity. I think I'm a little too intense about a lot of things. I'm very opinionated. I'm intense about work and work ethic. I would like to be a little bit calmer person, a little bit laid back ... . I've got too many things going on.