FARGO — National exposure never hurts a business, but for some of the Fargo-Moorhead restaurants featured over the past four months on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” the timing couldn't have been better.
Food Network star Guy Fieri rolled into Fargo-Moorhead last summer as eateries faced capacity restrictions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The episodes started airing in November, and so far, five of the six businesses have been featured. Only Rustica in Moorhead hasn’t seen its episode air yet.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything better to happen the way it did,” says Alan Kasin, co-owner of Pounds.
The downtown Fargo sandwich and comfort food spot was highlighted on Nov. 13, just as North Dakota issued a statewide mask mandate and restricted capacity in bars and restaurants in light of rising COVID-19 cases.
Kasin says Pounds had felt the pinch before those limitations and that business was down about 60 percent.
That all changed after Fieri gave their wings his signature "winner, winner chicken dinner" line — and orders went through the cluckin’ roof.
“Those first couple of weeks were really wild,” Kasin says. “We went from going through one case of chicken wings a week to 24 cases in a week.”
That’s all the more impressive considering Fargo restaurants at the time could only seat up to 50 percent of capacity.
He says Pounds was lucky to be the first local place featured, creating a bit more buzz for the business.
“It was like a security blanket that helped us know we’d be OK through everything,” Kasin says, adding that the barbecue pork mac and cheese Fieri drooled over is now a consistent bestseller.
One week later, Blackbird Woodfire, located just two blocks north of Pounds, made the show, but the spike in business wasn’t the same.
“We had a good uptick,” says owner, Casey Absey, estimating a 15 to 20 percent bump, which helped as Blackbird was only doing carryout at the time.
While Fieri called the sausage apple pizza “outstanding” and raved about the meatballs, orders for those two items didn’t blow up.
“Fargo’s a great city and we’ve got great customers,” Absey says. “I’ve heard of people so busy they had to close their doors because of Guy’s visit. We didn’t see that here.”
The next area eatery featured was Passage to India in Fargo. An employee there said over the phone that business was “much better” after Fieri called the food “the bomb” on Jan. 8.
Nikki Ness Berglund says her Moorhead restaurant, Sol Ave. Kitchen, saw a big spike on Feb. 13, the day after Fieri said their fried chicken sandwich was “crunch-a-tacious.”
“We were busier than we’d been in months,” she says.
That’s saying something as that day was a week into a cold snap and the coldest day of the year so far, with a high temperature of just 12 below zero.
A week earlier, Nichole Hensen saw a line of people waiting to get into her Nichole’s Fine Pastry & Café in downtown Fargo before she even opened the door. About 14 hours earlier, Fieri had praised her as “a gift to the town” after sampling her pecan sticky roll and a mushroom asparagus galette.
“That was the most nerve-wracking part of the show, you have no idea how much to make,” Hensen says for how she prepared for the morning after the episode aired. “I wouldn’t have been out of line if we’d doubled (the amount of rolls made).”
She didn’t have to wait until the next morning to see the impact the show had. Almost immediately after the episode aired, mail orders started coming in.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of orders from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California, New York, all around the country,” she says. “You don’t know what it’s going to do to a business.”
She’d learned just before Christmas that the show would air on Feb. 5, allowing her to breathe a sigh of relief because the staff unwinds after the holiday crush by closing shop until after the new year. Had the show aired during the holidays, her business would have felt the crush.
While business would be even better had the show not aired during the pandemic, Hensen expects to see spikes down the road as reruns air.
“It’s a feather in your cap when someone like that acknowledges you,” she says of the exposure. “It’s a boost, even if it’s a mental boost with the energy the staff got. After a year of the pandemic, any little thing gives you some rejuvenation.”