With COVID-19 essentially shutting down restaurants and bars in Michigan, businesses have shifted to carryout and delivery models to survive. Some have closed temporarily, from Mudgie’s in Corktown to Saffron De Twah on the east side. Others are turning into community resource hubs, like Sister Pie in West Village. For the owner of Corktown restaurant Folk, the pandemic has forced her to deconstruct and reconstruct the business, merging the past and present to build for an uncertain future.
Rohani Foulkes opened The Farmer’s Hand with then-partner Kiki Louya, who recently stepped away from the business, in 2016 with the idea to bring fresh, locally sourced, and affordable groceries to Detroiters. The Farmer’s Hand has since closed, and the restaurant Mink took over the space last fall. The idea at the time was to reopen the market in a larger space in the neighborhood but this Saturday, the grocery will resurface in a way.
“Ironically, this problem has created an opportunity for me to merge what The Farmer's Hand once was and some of the things Folk has been, back together,” Foulkes wrote in an email.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Folk will offer soups, salads, and sandwiches for takeout and delivery as well as locally sourced groceries and paper products such as hot commodity toilet paper. Customers can purchase online to pick up curbside as well as delivery. Grocery items are mostly available walk-in and curbside pickup, and if there is demand Folk will also offer delivery. The hope is that the services will allow her to bring back her laid-off staff.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to weather the storm,” Foulkes says. She’s had to lay off essentially the entire staff except for one employee, who will be working with her to serve shoppers as well as prepare items for takeout and delivery.
The emphasis on providing local goods is her way of supporting the local ecosystem during an especially challenging time.
“We’re all in this thing together and if we can find ways to self sustain especially in times like this I feel like that’s going to be crucial to get us through,” Foulkes says.
As part of the new direction, Folk is also offering a $20 “family meal” donation option on the website as well as in-store. The proceeds will go toward supporting staff and neighbors in need.
When asked how long she thinks Folk can operate during these unprecedented times, she says she doesn’t know. But the hospitality industry won’t be able to survive without large-scale assistance such as cash infusions and access to grants, Foulkes says.
“We need much bigger, broader, more impactful help,” she says. “There’s no way this can continue without higher level of support. While a lot of us are putting up GoFundMe [campaigns for employees] and [in Folk’s case creating] donation family meal kits, we can’t do it alone without city, state, and federal assistance. We’re all in a pretty rough position right now. These stimulus packages being rolled out are one thing but we’re all going to need much bigger, far more impactful assistance and it needs to happen now.”