Leave it to a worldwide pandemic to bring a new focus to Fine & Dandy at The District at Eastover.
The restaurant has already evolved into a grocery store and purveyor of pop-ups. But that temporary change will soon give way to another, a more focused approach that hopes to tell better Jackson’s food story – a transition from burger-centric to something more.
Owner Ray-Scott Miller said changes to the menu had already been happening subtly, leaning more into Jackson’s multicultural food roots from Greek to Latin and beyond. Dishes found on grandma’s Thanksgiving table and in Southern cookbooks of yesteryear have also become more of an inspiration.
Burgers, shakes and fries will always have their place in the restaurant. Entrees, casseroles and a broader range of deserts will be added incrementally to the new “neighborhood restaurant” concept.
In short, the menu will be more reflective of Jackson’s history, more focused and more precise, one that tells a story, Miller said.
“In identifying the genre of food we wanted to explore, my idea was to say, ‘I know what Nashville cuisine is; I know what Charleston cuisine is; I don’t necessarily know what Jackson cuisine is.’ So, it’s about paying respects to the history of Jackson.”
The grocery model that has served the community – and Fine & Dandy – so well – won’t last beyond social distancing.
“We would have a tough time competing with the Krogers and Walmarts of the world,” Miller said.
But it has sparked another thought, one that pays off all the hard work so many of his employees and their vendors have put in these past many weeks.
Miller has thoughts to offer “some sort-of pop-up grocery store” in underserved markets in town where food deserts mean hour-and-a-half bus rides – each way – to stock up on supplies.
“It’s $1.50 one-way, three times a week (on the bus),” he reiterated of a story he heard about a local man’s quest to buy fresh food.
“Back when I started (my career), I was hunting for quarters in the couch two days before payday so I could get something on the dollar menu at McDonald’s. I know what $30 means.”
Miller reasoned, then, “let’s supply food deserts with options.”
“At the end of the day, a restaurant’s job is to nourish. It’s one more way for us to do that – and give back.”
As COVID-19 hit, Fine & Dandy shut down immediately.
Paying suppliers for inventory became a challenge. The pressure mounted.
But Miller said it was the local vendors who stepped up and said, “We’ll put our product in your store.”
“They worked with us. So, at the end of the day, if I was in a foxhole, who would I want with me? A multi-billion-dollar company or the lady down the street growing my tomatoes? Before, local may have been a catchphrase. Today, for us, there’s an emotional connection. They were there when we needed them. Hopefully, we were there when they needed us.”
Beloved Jackson writer Eudora Welty once called the city “a region unto itself.”
If that’s the case, Miller said, Fine & Dandy should be able to see what Jackson cuisine is and help define what it is moving forward. It is the wayfinding the restaurant is seeking for their new direction and the push they need to serve the market.
“We’re very proud to be in Jackson,” Miller said. “We had options to go to multiple cities and we wanted to be here. Through COVID-19, we’ve seen Jackson be so supportive. It’s been unbelievable. That made me decide we need to push forward. This change is the perfect opportunity to begin that process.”