(pictured above: Vivian Joiner outside of Sweet Potatoes.)
Popular eateries to offer half-price menu favs
Foodies across the city will have the chance to sample some of the best the Twin City has to offer this month.
More than two dozen downtown eateries are expected to offer some of their most popular dishes at half price during dinner hours on Tuesdays in January, as part of the Big Eat. The annual promotion has become a staple in many restaurants’ calendar year, a way of kicking the new year off with an influx of sales, treating regulars to a great meal at a reduced price and, hopefully, attracting some new faces to the table.
“The original intent was to kind of showcase a variety of our menus and to reintroduce or introduce us to a wider audience of the Triad,” Vivian Joiner, co-owner of the popular Sweet Potatoes, 529 N. Trade St., said of The Big Eat “…It has worked. We get to see a lot of folks who, for whatever reason, don’t come out to dinner, and we get to highlight and showcase what we do. Most every year, we get new regulars.”
At Sweet Potatoes, The Big Eat days coincide with Half Price Wine Night, drawing a large crowd to the restaurant on a night that is typically slow.
“We’ve always gotten a full house most nights and we’ve gotten a really good response and a lot of good feedback, about the service, about the dishes and about overall who we are and what we do,” Joiner said of The Big Eat. “We probably have a 15 percent increase in foot traffic on those Big Eat nights.”
Sweet Potatoes, which is embarking on its 11th year, will be offering four of its most sumptuous dishes for half price during the Big Eat – Catfish NOLA (which was offered on Jan. 7), Spaghetti with a Drawl (Jan. 14), Drunken Pork Chops (Jan. 21) and V.V.’s Mama’s Meatloaf (Jan. 28).
“It’s just a way to be a part of the community, giving back a little bit to the community,” Joiner said of the restaurant’s participation in the promotion. “People always have a little sticker shock after the holidays and people just don’t go out as often in the winter months – especially in January – as they do in other months, so it’s a way to encourage folks to come out.”
The Big Eat, which is now in its sixth year, was started in 2009 as a means of boosting sales for downtown eateries, who were struggling in the wake of the economic downturn, explained Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.
“There was a real sense that the economy had impacted people’s ability to go out and eat at restaurants,” Thiel recalled. “…Tuesday night was a night that people would consider going out to eat, if we could give them a compelling reason.”
The initial Big Eat was billed as “Your Personal Gastronomic Recovery Plan,” a takeoff on the economic recovery headlines that dominated the news at the time.
“At the time, the economy was a little rough. People were not dining out as much, and downtown was still getting off its feet,” recalled Jennifer Manner, who opened the doors of her award-winning Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro, 878 W. 4th St., the year before The Big Eat began. “It was a way to bring some energy to downtown and get people excited about getting a nice meal at a really great price.”
Manner, a city native, says The Big Eat has been good for business at Mozelle’s, which was featured in Southern Living Magazine in 2011.
“We serve a lot of people on those nights,” said Manner, who will showcase Mozelle favorites like Gourmet Meatloaf with Spicy Collards and Cheese Grits (Jan. 14), Shrimp & Grits (Jan. 21) and Fried Chicken with Peach Chutney and Mac & Cheese (Jan. 28) during this year’s Big Eat. “I would say it increases foot traffic by three times.”
Thiel said the promotion has been embraced by restauranteurs, the vast majority of whom participate annually by offering one of their signature dishes or appetizers for half off. The program has been well received by the public, attracting not only local diners, but folks from across the Triad. Manner said she often serves patrons from Greensboro and High Point during The Big Eat.
“It’s really nice to get that many people through the door,” she remarked. “It’s kind of a different night. It’s a totally different dynamic and energy level. People are excited to get a bargain, and it’s a way of saying thank-you to our customers. We often see new faces during that time.”
Historically, hundreds of diners have flocked to the downtown area to take advantage of The Big Eat each week, often patronizing other downtown businesses – such as shops and entertainment venues – while they’re in the area, making it beneficial not only for restaurant owners, but for the downtown community as a whole, Thiel said.
“It has been a very successful program,” he declared. “…You’ll see a lot more people downtown on Tuesday nights.”
For a full list of Big Eat participating restaurants and offerings, go to http://www.dwsp.org. Sweet Potatoes’ Chef and Co-owner Stephanie Tyson will host the cooking class “All Things Sweet Potato” on Sunday, Jan. 12 from 5 – 7 p.m. at Southern Home & Kitchen in Thruway Shopping Center. The cost is $42. For more information, visit www.shopsohonc.com or call 336-777-3660.