A few weeks ago, Jeremy Lowe immortalized a fan of his Nearly Famous Burgers and Hot Dogs restaurant by putting her on the menu. That's not exactly precise - you can't actually order Jennifer Hurley from the menu, although some of us might wish we could. But the Savage Bacon Dog on the menu bears her maiden name. It's only fitting that a menu item is named in her honor and in honor of the Facebook group she founded, Arlington Foodies.
Members (and admins) of the Facebook group along with other local restaurant owners who share and post in the group have created a loyalty to "local" that's rare for a city the size of Arlington. You'd expect to see that fervor in a city a tenth the size, but the love for small businesses among the 19,000+ members of the group is undeniable. Lowe's restaurant-- which he co-owns with his father, Kevin-- and the Arlington Foodies group have something of a mutual admiration society going. That became even clearer when I got a chance to speak to both Lowe and Hurley.
The Savage Bacon Dog at Nearly Famous is topped with spicy mustard, jalapenos, fresh pico de gallo and a full-slice worth of chopped bacon. Using Hurley's maiden name to describe a hot dog that's savagely spicy is the kind of thing that's been endearing local diners to Lowe's restaurant since it opened in November of 2020. The restaurant is a rebirth of sorts of Nearly Famous Franks, a small chain in North Texas which Kevin Lowe ran with his father, Webster Lowe Jr.
It's Jeremy's personality, though, that shines through on the restaurant's Facebook page, where he offers frequent specials (the free dessert offerings are my favorite.) Lowe also honors veterans and supports other local businesses on the business Facebook page. Of his activity in the Arlington Foodies group, Hurley said, "He utilizes this group in such a perfect way. He keeps it conversational, he follows the rules on advertising, he supports the other events." Lowe is also quick to credit the group not only for his restaurant's success, but its survival.
"Basically, the Arlington Foodies Group discovered us when we opened about a year ago," Lowe told me when I reached out to him about the hot dog and the Arlington Foodies group. "We instantly became a foodie favorite, and they turned out to support their local businesses. I had never heard about the group. Every three months they do a swarm vote, and I won the summer 'swarm'. When you do that, they take an hour out of a Sunday or something, and they swarm your business to help you improve your sales."
"Then on top of that, when I won the summer swarm, I had to take on the other swarm winners in a voting contest, and I won Best of 2021. It's been an amazing journey. Without the Arlington Foodies, I don't think we would have made it through the pandemic. Jennifer is the greatest, most beautiful soul you've ever met. She cares about the people in her group."
Customers at the restaurant had been asking for a spicy hot dog, and it occurred to Jeremy that he had a perfect name for it. "So in honor of her," he said, "she will live on Nearly Famous Burgers and Hot Dogs Menu forever."
Hurley was delighted to be honored this way, and the success of the group at its mission of supporting local is its own reward as well. "When I started the group, I didn't have any mission except to support small restaurants businesses," Hurley said.
"About 6 years ago I discovered one of my favorite small, local restaurants was struggling. It wasn't just with bringing in customers, but a language barrier hindering them to get their message to mass media or even finishing paperwork for their liquor license," Hurley said. "They had been swindled by several fly by night so called business developers."
"Additionally, I could see more and more chain restaurants arriving in Arlington. We were beginning to lose sight of some of our restaurant gems to big business. I would like to preface that I am NOT against chain restaurants or even big business," Hurley continued. "I simply believe that small business support by our local citizens is paramount to develop a healthy, balanced and self-sustaining economy in Arlington. Not to mention it promotes a supporting model for individuals within our city. Becoming reliant on big business can be dangerous because we become susceptible to corporate decision making. There must be balance."
Hurley created the Facebook group in May of 2016 as a way to help these small businesses. It was a public Facebook group, and Hurley was thrilled that they grew to 300 members in just three months. The next three months brought them to 5,000 members and now they have nearly 20,000 members. Hurley changed the group to a private group to make it easier to manage; it takes 12 admins and moderators to facilitate the communication.
"We try to keep it positive, keep it light, focus on the hidden gems in Arlington. It seems like on review sites and social media pages, nobody ever wants to talk about the good stuff." Early on, the mission of the group was partially to level the playing field where marketing is concerned. "Marketing is done for you as part of the brand when you're a franchise or part of a chain."
"Small businesses are going off passion...I really do believe that you put energy into the food you create...and if you have that passion it's going to taste a little bit better." On the Arlington Foodies group page, restaurant owners who join are allowed to post a promotion of their restaurant with specific restrictions about how often they can post. Members who love to eat are encouraged to share their favorite local restaurants as well.
In-person activity has been hampered the last couple of years, but the group "swarms" where everyone is invited to visit a local restaurant have become a regular thing again. A once-a-month Farmers Market at Bicentennial Park in Pantego is starting back up soon, featuring food from the Arlington Foodies Produce Coop, which is another project of Arlington Foodies.
In addition to supporting local businesses, the group has hosted a "blind" best burger challenge that they hope to repeat, and raised $500 for Mission Metroplex with a bakeoff at Sugarbee Sweets. All of the projects fall under the official nonprofit Hurley set up, and she and the group have big plans for more.
"Every year, Arlington Foodies levels up on itself even more. I did create the group, but the group isn't me, "Hurley says. "It's everybody that's part of the group... I learn a lot from our members too."
If you'd like to learn more about Arlington Foodies, you can visit the website, answer some qualifying questions and join the Facebook group, or just get started by having a Savage Bacon Dog at Nearly Famous Burgers and Hot Dogs (1905 E. Arkansas Lane, Arlington.) It's the best way I can think of to learn to love local.