NOTE: In January of the past few years (2016-2019) we have shared our annual “Best We Ate” series to highlight local restaurants and the incredibly memorable dishes they served us in the previous calendar year. 2020 was no normal year, obviously, and, in recognition of that reality, we are replacing our normal recap of the best burgers, tacos, desserts and other plates with a look back at how the year’s challenges helped spotlight the importance of supporting local restaurants.
2020 started about like any other year for me and my wife Molly as we marked the new year by dining in a few locally-owned restaurants. On Jan. 1, we were in the Florida panhandle on a trip to celebrate our January wedding anniversary early, and that took us to great spots like McGuire’s Irish Pub and Okaloosa Donuts.
In the following month or so, life and dining continued to be quite normal (for many people). We ate an amazing meal at Martin’s Family Restaurant in Montgomery, Ala., great burgers at spots like Hoof & Barrel in York, S.C., and Ike’s in Spartanburg, S.C., and great barbecue and sides at Big Tiny’s in Mooresville, N.C.
Then everything changed. For restaurant dining and for the world as a whole, things started to shut down. The emergence and worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic created safety concerns that led many businesses to close their doors or at least minimize services.
In our home area of western North Carolina it was almost impossible for a while to enter a restaurant and eat a sit-down meal. (And it was much longer in other parts of the world, with some even still not resuming normal table service.) But it has been a small inconvenience for diners like us to not be able to walk into a restaurant, order, wait and be served food. The real pain has been felt by restaurant cooks, servers and other employees, as well as the small-shops’ owners. Those hard-working people lost important working hours and the life-supporting paychecks associated with time on the clock.
#FoodieScore is a humble blog focused on sharing our love of recipes and locally-owned restaurants. We tell you about one-of-a-kind places we like to eat because you might not discover them otherwise. Those are the restaurants, the people, most hurt by COVID-related changes. Oftentimes small restaurants don’t have many resources to invest in advertising gimmicks like big chains do (i.e. McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Outback Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, etc.). Local places rely on serving specialties, impressing customers and getting diners to tell others about their food. They can’t do that if they aren’t open, and they can’t stay open without steady support from their customers.
At one point, I thought we might not be able to share a “Best We Ate” post for the year because we wouldn’t be able to eat enough restaurant meals to make it happen. But restaurants in our part of the world persevered, stayed open and welcomed us and countless other diners back for picking up takeout and some opportunities for dine-in meals.
By the middle of 2020, we were able to enjoy takeout plates from local favorites like Red Bridges BBQ and Shelby Cafe in Shelby, N.C., as well as Big Red’s Coffee and Terra Mia in Kings Mountain, N.C., the now-closed Pita Wheel in Dallas, N.C., and The Shake Shop in Spindale, N.C.
We really sacrificed very little in the way of food blessings in the year as a whole. The ones who lost much were the restaurants that were forced to close for a long time, or forever, because of health restrictions (and lost business) due to the pandemic. And the ultimate sacrifice was paid by all the people who died due to COVID-related health complications, as well as the family members who now miss them greatly.
Restaurants are nothing without diligent attention to healthiness and the ever-present loyalty of customers. So those small “mom-and-pop” shops in every city and small town need our help, now more than ever.
You don’t have to stop visiting your favorite chains in order to support small eateries. We have national spots we enjoy, too. But our focus and our primary loyalty is for those one-of-a-kind restaurants you can only find in one place. Will you join us in 2021 in visiting locally-owned dining businesses whenever you can? And let us know in the comments – what are your favorite local spots to support? Thank you for doing your part to eat local!