Customers surge back to Royal Fork in hopes of saving long-time restaurant

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Earlier this week the Royal Fork Buffet announced it would be closing its doors for good, all due to the impact of COVID-19. The news has once again filled the restaurant that has a long history in Sioux Falls, with some customers hoping to help save it.

From Pier 1 to Gordman’s and now the Royal Fork, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a big toll on some major businesses on the south side of the Empire Mall.

“It’s the last thing we wanted to do, nobody saw this at the end of February, we were on track for a banner year and then the virus hit and the world has changed,” Royal Fork General Manager Dana Lanz siad. 

The virus has scared away some of the Royal Fork’s usually loyal customers.

“Very slow. People are just scared, they’re not moving and they’re trying to do the right thing and you know you can understand that,” Lanz said. 

“I was concerned and I invited some guests to come with me because we’ve always brought guests over the years and they were very reluctant so I just came by myself,” Long time customer Joel Greene said.

Lanz says traffic has been down roughly 50 percent since they re-opened in May. Since announcing their closure Monday, business has taken a dramatic turn.

“An hour and a half later, the restaurant was full with a line of people waiting to get in,” Lanz said of Monday’s traffic. “And then we actually fed more people last Tuesday than we did last Friday, Saturday and Sunday combined.”

“My son-in-law is coming down from Dickinson, North Dakota on Saturday so he can eat here one last time,” Greene said.

For people like Joel Greene, the Royal Fork is more than just a restaurant.

“I told them when Janna was in kindergarten and she wrote her bio about grandpa she said ‘Papi was born in the Royal Fork’,” Greene joked with Lanz.

Greene says the Royal Fork is a place filled with decades of memories of meals spent with friends and family.

“When my wife was alive, she passed away three years ago, once she started eating here she would never eat in any other location in this city,” Greene said.

It wasn’t only the food bringing the Greene family back two to five times a week, but the relationship they have with the long time staff members.

“They all knew her by her first name,” Greene said. “I’ve known Mr. Lanz for 30 years now. When you have that special touch then you feel like you’re part of the Royal Fork family.”

“We’re in the food business, but its really been a people business,” Lanz said. 

A business that’s touched countless longtime customers and thousands of employees over the decades.

“One of our head cooks has been here since we opened in 1993, there’s probably a dozen or 15 employees at around the 10 year mark, then there’s always a cycle of teenagers that are going through,” Lanz said. “We’ve had an outpouring of people that used to work here and the parents of former employee…there are so many of them that are playing such a huge role in our community today, their outpouring and show of support its been incredible.”

“We pray to the angel that there’s some opening somewhere down the road some how that it can be resurrected,” Greene said.

Now customers like Greene are doing everything they can to help the Royal Fork find a way forward.

“Some of the guests that have eaten in the restaurant have been in contact with legislators and governors and congresspeople and senators–there’s been a huge outpouring from the community and we’re all praying for an angel,” Lanz said.

That angel could come in the form of new federal help; so far, the Royal Fork has heavily relied on the Paycheck Protection Program to keep its doors open.

“The PPP runs out in July, not knowing what the future is means some really difficult decisions,” Lanz said.

As of right now, the Royal Fork plans to have its last day on Saturday, August 2nd. If congress passes a new federal aid program like the PPP, Lanz says the restaurant’s plans to permanently close may change. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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