How do Arlington Foodies celebrate the city's 'little gems?' It started with a Facebook group.
If you’re looking for the best restaurants between Dallas and Fort Worth, theArlington Foodies want to point you in the right direction. The grassroots Facebook group features a repository of dining options and news about a culinary scene best described as an “open secret.”
This guild of gastronomists started in 2016, as a way to keep local eateries’ lights on amid competition from proliferating chain restaurants. Chains are great, said Arlington Foodies founder Jennifer Savage Hurley, but they lack the soul that’s baked into small businesses. Savage Hurley wanted a way to help owners with limited advertising budgets or language barriers get people to their tables.
“They didn’t have advocates for them as far as advertising was concerned,” Savage Hurley said. “Because of that, we were losing them. We were losing some of the character … the integration of different cultures in Arlington.”
Savage Hurley took her effort to social media. Since then, the group has ballooned from a couple hundred members in its first few months to over 19,000 as of Feb. 8, including several administrators who moderate posts and membership. People across North Texas have started city and regional foodie groups of their own. All the while, the Arlington Foodies group has gained nonprofit status to fund a monthly farmer’s market and a produce co-operative. The group is also behind myriad events bringing people to local restaurants.
“People didn’t know about these restaurants," Savage Hurley said. "Now, they know about them. Now, they’re wanting to share about these little gems they’re finding in Arlington.”
Restaurant owners have joined the movement too. Dozens of eateries offer promotions or discounts to customers who mention the group or flash a paper “foodie card.” The Foodies also host a potluck picnic twice a year, during which restaurants offer up menu items for sampling.
The group itself and the rapport among restaurateurs and customers has grown far beyond Savage Hurley’s expectations.
“It really did turn into something quite beautiful in Arlington that nobody ever anticipated happening just from this little Facebook group that I set up because I liked a couple of restaurants that I didn’t want to see go away,” Savage Hurley said.
A culinary COVID-19 lifeline
Jeremy Lowe credits the success of his hot dog and burger stand to the Arlington Foodies.
He and his father, Kevin Lowe, spent years discussing how to restart their business, Nearly Famous Franks and Burgers, which operated around Dallas-Fort Worth 21 years ago. Back then, the double drive-thru chain sold homestyle fast food fare for 89 cents in Fort Worth, Euless, North Richland Hills and Hurst.
The Lowes saw an opportunity to revive their business near Arlington’s Sam Houston High School when a building in the middle of a shopping center parking lot hit the market. Its previous owner. The previous tenant left due to COVID-19, but drew in dozens of students at a time before the pandemic. Jeremy and Kevin Lowe opened Nearly Famous Burgers and Hot Dogs in November 2020, hoping the pandemic was winding down.
“We had no idea it would ramp back up and take back off,” Jeremy Lowe said.
Business was slow the first couple of months, until a customer snapped pictures of the restaurant to post to Arlington Foodies. Not long after, customers queued up.
“They just started turning out and turning out, and they tried us and they loved us,” Lowe said.
And they kept turning out. In summer 2021, the group selected Nearly Famous as its business to “swarm,” or visit en masse for dinner. They took to the burger stand’s picnic tables along the parking lot again Jan. 29, after they deemed Nearly Famous the most popular swarm of the year. Foodies gave Lowe a plaque, and Lowe gave customers free dessert. He also unveiled a new permanent menu item, the Savage Bacon Dog, dressed with bacon bits, pickled jalapeños, pico de gallo and spicy mustard and named after the group’s founder.
Savage Hurley said Lowe is one of the Foodie faithful. He even keeps a stack of cards to hand out.
“He’s just a little drive-thru place that has a couple picnic benches by a street,” she said. “He’s a local ma-and-pa shop, and that’s exactly what we want to support and share.”
Groups like Arlington Foodies have also been a boon for private chefs like Brandon Emmitt. Emmitt said he’s gained as many as 40 new customers for his catering business since joining and promoting himself in social media groups. People are noticing promotion in that space, he added, since the pandemic has pushed people even more online.
“Everything just took off from there once they saw my posts from week to week to day to day,” he said.
Becoming a Foodie
The main Arlington Foodies Facebook group is private, but membership is open to anyone with an appetite. Those who ask to join must dish about their favorite Arlington-area restaurant and explain how they heard about the group. Members must also agree to provide constructive criticism and feedback only.
“We are not a review board,” she said. “There’s Yelp for that. There’s Google reviews for that.”
People looking for dinner plans can search the group’s library of tags, the most popular of which are burgers and barbecue. Those who post their findings are encouraged to include pictures. Business owners are allowed to post advertisements once a week, and everyone is required to keep their content local to Arlington and the smaller surrounding cities, like Mansfield and Kennedale.
Savage Hurley said the group has challenged her to rethink her approach to food. She and her family have refashioned the yard around their historic downtown home to hopefully one day support an orchard and produce for the co-op. The property, which once belonged to former Tarrant County Commissioner Olin Gibbins, is now home to two greenhouses and a brood of hens.
“A lot of people think that being a foodie is just, ‘I took a picture and I either love it or hate it.’ That’s not what a foodie is,” Savage Hurley said. “A foodie is truly being passionate about food [and] loving food in all its aspects. That includes the development in my mind."
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