WELCOME BACK, SANFORD! Food & Beverage Lessons Learned from a Pandemic


Sanford is back and booming, looking a lot like pre-pandemic times. How do I know? Recently, I was out for a Sunday morning walk through downtown, normally a sleepy time downtown. But what did I see? Why, there was a line of people across Magnolia Square, waiting for something. Glancing at my watch, I realized that it was 10:58—Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café opens at 11 AM. And that is what the line was for, waiting for lunch at Sanford’s premiere destination restaurant.
The previous night, we were people-watching from across the street in front of The Sullivan Public House. Magnolia Square was packed on a Saturday night, typical—before the pandemic—and lots of those folks were waiting to get into “The Tree” as it is known locally. But The Sullivan was packed, too, with standing room only inside, and the two bartenders and barback were busy, as was the kitchen. Next door at The Imperial, the same thing, busy.
Earlier that evening, we ate at a favorite, El Zocalo, on Sanford Avenue. Outside, folks were getting ready for the monthly Sanford Avenue Block Party. Eventually, the streets were filled with people enjoying the live band and patronizing the local bars and clubs. It was a remarkably busy night in Sanford.
Yes, Sanford is back, and we are so glad. But while Sanford is back and has survived the pandemic, there have also been some changes. The Old Jailhouse has a new chef and menu and has reduced lunch hours to one day a week, on Saturday. The District now only serves dinner 6 days a week. Reservations recommended for both places on the weekend though—a good sign. A few places have not, and most likely, will not reopen. We are sad to see them go, but others have filled the void. Henry’s Depot, whose food court was just getting off the ground as the pandemic started, is going full steam with all food court venues filled and bustling. Sanford Brewing Company and Wops Hops Brewing are pretty much full on weekends now, just like old times. Buster’s Bistro has a new menu and new hours as well. In the middle of the pandemic, Mr. Z’s changed ownership and transformed into Slam Pizza, though now only open 5 days a week. Manikin’s Lounge on Sanford Avenue has expanded into the space next door, another sign of growth. And Shantell’s has added a huge tent in back, more outdoor space for patrons.
Retail is surging as well. Magpies Modern Store expanded into a larger space next door, while transforming their former space into clothing—and this occurred during the pandemic. Several new shops have opened on Magnolia Avenue near 3rd, and by the time you read this, Dee’s Brothers Brewery will be open and serving their own brews right across from the Wayne Densch Theater. Tuffy’s remodeled an indoor space and is packing folks into the Music Box on weekends as well—live music and entertainment. And the list goes on and on. Yes, Sanford is back.
Events have returned as well—with a vengeance. Pints and Paws was a great success in March, drawing many folks with their four legged friends to Sanford. Memorial Day services returned to Veterans Memorial Park on Lake Monroe at the end of May—the event was only virtual one year ago. Most local merchants reported that May 2021 was their best month— ever! In June, the 14th Annual Hurricane Party returned, sponsored by West End, Celery City, and Tuffy’s. It was a huge success with live music, streets closures, and it, too, drew large crowds to Sanford. But perhaps the biggest announcement of the year is that Sanford’s Star-Spangled Fireworks event is back and will take place on the Fourth of July! The Best of Sanford Awards, which was live streamed last year, is set for September 8th in all it’s red carpet glory and the annual Christmas parade will return in December.
Sanford is indeed back, and my sense is that Sanford has rebounded and is now stronger than ever. Welcome back, Sanford, and welcome to Sanford.

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