ARLINGTON, Texas — As the economy continues to flux, there is no surprise that businesses are struggling. From supply chain issues to staffing shortages, restaurants have continued to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
A restaurant struggling in the Metroplex made headlines recently after posting an outcry on social media. That outcry was shared thousands of times since.
The Arlington Foodies Facebook group, managed by the Arlington Foodies Farmer’s Market, has nearly 20,000 members in its mission to “build a kind and positive community.” The group’s goal is to primarily share some of their favorite food in Arlington with each other.
Fork in the Road, a restaurant serving American favorites, was close to shutting down for good when it posted to its social media account about the struggles it faced amid a changing landscape. With the rising cost of materials, a staffing shortage and supply chain issues, the mom-and-pop restaurant was struggling to get customers through the door.
Everything changed when owners Josh and Sonya Hopkins posted about their struggles to the restaurant’s Facebook page. The post was shared widely on social media, including Arlington Foodies. Since then, customers have poured into the restaurant, reminding the Hopkins of the community that has rallied around keeping the doors open.
Jennifer Hurley is the founder and one of several admins and moderators in the Arlington Foodies Facebook group. To her, the example of Fork in the Road is just one of many instances of the community taking that extra step beyond just recommending their go-to spot to other Arlingtonites.
For Hurley, the idea for Arlington Foodies came from helping one of her favorite restaurants that was struggling amid an increase in other restaurants and chains competing for customer attention.
Those local mom-and-pop restaurants’ marketing budgets do run significantly smaller than most chain restaurants, Hurley points out.
“Some of these local mom and pop restaurants were really losing their opportunities. Just because they didn't have anything out there to help support and promote them,” Hurley said.
Hurley started Arlington Foodies nearly seven years ago to get the word out about helping local businesses. Since then, it has grown to include thousands of members each day sharing suggestions, asking for recommendations and just spreading the word about places like Fork in the Road, which are struggling to keep up.
“A foodie is somebody that truly has a passion for food, and they appreciate, they respect the local restaurant that’s out there,” said Hurley. “I’m just really proud of the members that we have.”
“When the pandemic hit, there was a lot of issues with coronavirus, and a lot of restaurants were closed down,” said Nancy Lee, an administrator for Asian Grub in the DFDub Facebook group. “I think there's a lot of racism... in place. Where, you know, [someone] is like, ‘we're not going to eat at Chinese restaurants.’”
Asian Grub in the DFDub has only existed for two years but already has more than 50,000 members who are also on a mission to save local businesses.
Lee has seen firsthand how just word of mouth (or, in this case, sharing a post on Facebook) has pushed a struggling business to where it needed to be.
“It all started with how do we find a way to help these families and these kids, and their livelihoods with their restaurants?” Lee said.
The outreach of the group doesn’t go unnoticed. For Lee, helping the community through social media has been rewarding and an easy way to get involved.
“We had one family. They’re like ‘man, we didn’t know what we were going to do. We’re going to shut down.’ It was a restaurant in Mansfield. They said, ‘I didn’t know how I was going to feed my family and my kids, but we’re so grateful for your group,’” described Lee.
The group also prides itself on its easy-to-find suggestions, including a map of different cuisines and organized group topics for different communities in the Metroplex.
Though Arlington Foodies and Asian Grub in the DFDub may have different members, supporting local businesses is the piece that ties them together.
“Each one of these little mom and pop restaurants, it’s not just... getting food, you’re actually getting that chef, and all of their passion, all of their interests, and their dedication on a plate,” said Hurley. “There’s something special about putting a name to a restaurant.”
Feeling the pinch of inflation
Numbers from a late July report found that consumer prices surged to 9.1% in June, making it the largest increase in the past four decades.
On a month-to-month basis, prices rose 1.3% from May to June. The government's report also found that consumer spending had managed to outpace inflation, rising 0.1% from May to June.
In an Economic Event Sensitivity Survey released earlier this year from the Innovating Commerce Serving Communities, 64% of consumers facing economic hardships, such as rising prices due to inflation, were likely to cut costs by eliminating dining out, but if their economic situation improved or they saw the overall economy improve, 41% of consumers said they would spend more money on dining out.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important that people get out there, and they support these restaurants, because this is a time that [the] community needs to stand up and come together for these mom and pop places, or we will lose our favorites,” said Hurley.