Forsyth Seafood fights for East Winston

Virginia Hardesty and Ashley Hardesty Armstrong, proprietors of Forsyth Seafood, fight to keep EBT authorization.

Forsyth Seafood fights for East Winston
October 17
03:30 2019

USDA change threatens EBT authorization for fresh fish.

By Bridget Elam

“Another fight.” Those were the words of Virginia Hardesty, owner of Forsyth Seafood.

The fight she is speaking of is with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its recent changes to SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps).

In September 2018, the USDA amended the retailer eligibility criteria for restaurants. The new statute reads: Restaurant firms with more than 50% of their total gross sales from hot and/or cold prepared foods not intended for home preparation or home consumption (including prepared foods consumed on the premises or sold for carryout) cannot accept EBT payments. This is known as the “Restaurant Threshold.” Technically, the Restaurant Threshold rule excludes Forsyth Seafood from being authorized to accept EBT purchases. By losing Food and Nutrition Service (FNS [USDA]) authorization to accept SNAP (EBT), an already underserved population would be further marginalized.

For Forsyth Seafood, this is a technicality they are working hard to overcome. As many may be aware, there are two sides to Forsyth Seafood.

One side is the fresh market store and the other is a 100-seat restaurant. The fresh market store currently accepts EBT. However, because the restaurant provides cooked food that contributes to more than 50% of sales, Forsyth Seafood is ineligible to receive EBT payments on the fresh market side.

Not being able to accept EBT would be a significant hit for the establishment. “We would lose about 30% of our business,” said Virginia Hardesty. “That’s the make-or-break number.”

There are certain exceptions available under the Restaurant Threshold rule, one being if the restaurant is in a food desert (FNS 7 CFR § 278.1). East Winston is considered a food desert and Forsyth Seafood is in the middle of East Winston. So, it’s possible Forsyth Seafood can keep their authorization under the exception clause.

They have filed the paperwork. Hardesty hopes the appeal will be accepted and they will continue to serve some of their most loyal customers who frequent the fresh market store.

“People’s access to fresh food is very limited already. It’s devastating to many of our customers,” Hardesty said.

Ashley Hardesty Armstrong, who is the chef of Forsyth Seafood and founding chef and curator of The Table Experience, mentioned that the change would not only affect the business’s bottom line, but those who have become like family as well.

“It would be really unfortunate if people in the area don’t have access to whole foods. We’ve been supporting fishermen in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for 35 years, buying directly from them. If this [EBT authorization] goes away, they can’t support their families,” she continued. “Not to mention the employees, their hours would be cut.”

With the thought of having to do away with the fresh market side of the business, Hardesty and Armstrong remain hopeful.

“It’s encouraging to have the support of Virginia Foxx, Alma Adams and Dr. William Barber,” said Hardesty. “They have helped us fight this issue.” In addition, Hardesty said they have received support and valuable resources from Derwin Montgomery, Richard Burr, Lafayette and Sandie Jones (SMSI Marketing) and Womble, Bond, and Dickinson, LLP.

Forsyth Seafood has been in business since 1984 and is a staple in the East Winston community.

They have been instrumental in supporting East Winston by sponsoring various little league teams and other community events. This time, Hardesty asks the community to help them by contacting their elected officials and asking them to get behind them and support their fight for EBT authorization.

“Food stamps are key to providing fresh food to many people in the East Winston area where young people are trying to take care of their families and the elderly are just trying to make ends meet. Forsyth Seafood serves a purpose in East Winston and Winston-Salem. In this fight, we hope the USDA will enable Forsyth Seafood and its employees to continue that purpose,” said Hardesty.

The USDA’s decision about Forsyth Seafood’s retailer eligibility is expected in the coming weeks.

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