By Grace Arnn
Restaurants suffered significantly during the COVID-19 crisis as they navigated capacity limits and mask mandates, but one local restaurant in Fayetteville, Feed and Folly, not only beat the odds but is expanding.
On Feed and Folly’s official opening day in March 2020, the restaurant faced the COVID-19 restrictions immediately. “We had a soft opening, and then opening day I served at lunch and we were shut down to to-go orders only by that evening,” Kennedy Cash, a manager at Feed and Folly, said.
Feed and Folly is located a block off Fayetteville’s downtown square and is one of the rare restaurants in the city that features rooftop dining. Patrons can enjoy a view of south Fayetteville and the distant Boston Mountains. The rooftop patio helped Feed and Folly pull through the pandemic since it provided an outdoor, socially-distanced space for customers to enjoy food and beverages.
“It made [customers] feel more comfortable, and the view up there is just beautiful,” Cash said.
After the brief opening for in-person dining, Feed and Folly served to-go orders for two months. In-person dining resumed in May 2020, but the restaurant could only seat at 33% of its capacity.
Bart Hammig, a University of Arkansas professor who specializes in epidemiology and public health, said an outdoor dining option would be important in a pandemic. “You’re much safer outside than in,” Hamming said. “I mean, this is an airborne disease… So, I could see how it would be advantageous for restaurants with outdoor seating.” However, Hammig added he would not feel safe in an overly crowded outdoor environment.
By the summer of 2020, the restaurant was only functioning at 66% capacity, Cash said, which included Labor Day weekend. By August 2020, Arkansas restaurants were reporting revenues were down 35% from the year earlier, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Economic Recovery Task Force. During the pandemic, the restaurant experienced brief shutdowns due to COVID-19 infections and scares amongst the staff, according to Jessica Shearman, a Feed and Folly server.
This year’s Labor Day weekend was drastically different since Feed and Folly had been functioning at full capacity since the first weekend of March 2021, Cash said. The restaurant recorded sales on Labor Day, Sept. 6, 2021, and the day prior that were greater than typical Friday and Saturday sales, Cash said.
The strong sales came despite the continuation of the pandemic. There were 6,062 active COVID-19 cases on Labor Day 2020 in Arkansas., while there were 21,674 active cases on Labor Day in 2021, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Active cases have rapidly decreased since Labor Day 2021, unlike last year.
“I think it’s a true drop in cases, but the reasons for that I don’t think can be explained,” Hammig said. “Some people have ideas about why it is cycling the way it does, but frankly, we really don’t know a lot about the epidemiology of this disease.”
The restaurant’s successful run has led the owners to open a new restaurant, which will be located on Leverett St. and resemble a beer garden, Cash said.