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Coronavirus Kills Royal Fork

Stick a fork in the Royal Fork—they’re done:

Royal Fork Buffet is closing after almost four decades in Sioux Falls, unable to overcome changes in restaurant dining because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last day will be Aug. 2 for the restaurant on the south side of The Empire Mall campus.

…The restaurant closed temporarily March 19 as efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 grew in Sioux Falls. It reopened May 8 with employees dishing up food for diners and returned to regular buffet service May 30.

In late June, managing partner Dana Lanz said the restaurant was seeing about half as many customers as usual. The number of diners has been dropping instead of increasing since then, he said.

…Royal Fork started in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1967, and at its peak had about 50 locations, Lanz said. Sioux Falls is the only site that remains [Rosemary McCoy, “Royal Fork Buffet to Close Permanently,” Sioux Falls Business, 2020.07.20].

McCoy reports that Royal Fork’s owners decided Friday to call it quits. They must have decided in the afternoon, because Friday morning, they launched a gift certificate giveaway, saying they’d announce winners on July 26:

Royal Fork gift certificates, FB post, 2020.07.17.
Now collectors items! Royal Fork gift certificates, FB post, 2020.07.17.

Royal Fork closed the giveaway yesterday and said they’ll announce winners today to allow those last lucky few to have time to come to town and dig in.


  1. Wade Brandis 2020-07-21 19:34

    Could have they temporarily switched to a takeout-only model? Many restaurants did just that during the first months of the pandemic.

    In Madison, the local China Buffet reopened a little over a month ago. But it’s not really a buffet now. They built a new walk-in order window and you can only order take-out. They also take phone orders. The weird thing is they do not take debit/credit cards, only cash or check. They have had an aversion to accepting debit/credit cards for years before the pandemic, but with some people concerned about handling cash, they could just use Squarespace or Clover as a way to start accepting cards.

    As for how business is doing, I don’t know specifics. Every time I walk past China Moon, there is no one at the order window. Maybe their orders pick up around lunch or dinner?

  2. mike from iowa 2020-07-21 20:23

    Covid kills more than buffet lunches….

    Coronavirus Cases:

    More milestones hit today. What will tomorrow bring?

  3. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2020-07-22 00:46

    The Royal Fork is closing along with Gordmans in the Empire Mall area. Sears already left, Younkers too, and Dillard’s never showed up. JCPenney is in bankruptcy, Macy’s is questionable, and the GAP has still not reopened due to the pandemic. But the good news is, that TenHaken’s Chic-fil-A is still coming to that area, but hopefully its view will face a different direction like an exit to a different future on I-29. Because “Boom Town” has ended, but McDonald’s? It’s still hiring.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-22 06:35

    Wade: no cards at the buffet? That is strange, and runs counter to the logic that cash would be a greater coronavirus risk than a card. Maybe they’re just trying to reduce costs by avoiding the card transaction fees?

    Indeed, take-out seems worth pursuing… but I wonder if the lure of Royal Fork is so much the experience of going through the line and loading the plate down three-four times that the food itself in one box just isn’t the same draw. Among smaller complications, Royal Fork would have to prepare and post menus!

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-22 06:41

    JKC, did Dillard’s back out, or are they just delayed? They could be Dillard-dallying….

    The old Royal Fork in Rapid City was by the Rushmore Mall… I wonder… did location near dwindling malls do them in? To what extent did Royal Fork’s business in Sioux Falls synergize with Empire Mall business?

    Maybe it’s time to totally revamp the Empire Mall area. Could we redesign the whole area in to a more human-friendly mixed-use area? Get rid of the vast parking lot deserts, bulldoze the giant brick complex, build some nice downtown-style housing, put in more smaller shops and greenspace?

  6. David Bergan 2020-07-22 07:27

    Hi Cory!

    It’s hard to draw wide conclusions here. My guess is that what appealed to someone about eating at Royal Fork didn’t translate to take out. I didn’t eat there frequently, but when I introduced my children to the buffet on a weeknight last January or February and it was packed… And with a good variety of generations… Not just the senior citizens I was expecting. My kids loved it. But once social distancing started, we never thought about getting take out there… What would you order? My meal in February consisted of a few dozen fried shrimp, a waffle, some nachos, sliced roast beef with gravy, French fries, cake and ice cream. Not one of those items is really takeout-worthy… but collectively, with the air of freedom that buffets give your, it’s a bargain.

    Meanwhile, Texas Roadhouse on the west side of the mall parking lot is continuously stuffed with patrons. Roam offers an excellent dining experience. Red Lobster does it’s thing on the north side, and there’s an Applebee’s and Red Robin in the mall. The food court has always been a favorite for the kids (Culver’s AND Taco John’s!).

    Consumer habits are definitely changing, but with the influx of visitors SF gets every weekend, the Empire Mall will survive in some form. The anchor stores have been in trouble ever since the Internet became competitive, but a mall full of boutiques would be attractive to a lot of people.

    Personally, I think malls are a better bet than the office space lessors now that managers are learning that white collar employees can be more productive at home than in a cubicle.

    Kind regards,

    PS JKC forgot Toys R Us.

    PPS I’m disappointed that grudz failed to create a witty comment about a restaurant. Maybe he’s lost a step.

  7. grudznick 2020-07-22 07:31

    The Royal Fork by the Rushmore mall became an Olive Garden. grudznick breakfasted at the Fork often. You could really load up the sausage gravy and nobody would bat an eye.

    Good idea Mr. H has to bulldoze the malls. They are just places hooligans hang out and protesters gather to commit crimes like burglary and smashing windows and general nuisancery.

  8. jerry 2020-07-22 10:38

    Fleet Farm in Rapid City is a year behind it’s first slated opening. I have my doubts on when and if it will open at all and if it will open, will be scaled down.

  9. jerry 2020-07-22 10:40

    Keep the malls but build flats on top of them. Use the old mall space under the flats for small shops.

  10. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2020-07-22 13:40

    I am not sure what Dillard’s is doing. Initially, they were supposed to open in the fall of ’19 with greater square footage than the former Younkers. The Empire Mall has signs outside the interior entrance of that retail spot suggesting that something is coming, but no mention that it will be Dillard’s.

    There’s talk that JCPenney will survive bankruptcy, however, but only because in the current retail environment an effective liquidation sale would not work. So, creditors will most likely be forced to continue to lend to keep it alive for better times for the retailer or eventually for liquidators.

    Royal Fork’s problem, IMO, is that their clientele is for the most part the most vulnerable age group to COVID-19. So, I am sure many of their good customers have been staying away and would have for sometime to come.

    A couple of months ago, there was a NYT article, which suggested COVID-19 will end up permanently closing 25% of all restaurants across our country.

    As far as the mall, or all malls themselves, well, some have suggested renovating the empty retail spaces into affordable housing units with complementary shops.

    I did forget Toys R Us, didn’t I? But at least it has been filled with Scandinavian Design, which matches Noem’s Swedish approach to COVID-19, does it not? ;-)

  11. David Bergan 2020-07-22 14:46

    That was an eerily quick response to my summoning, Mr. Grudznick. You have all the steps.

    Kind regards,

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-07-22 18:58

    I appreciate David’s point about the buffet experience. People go to the buffet not knowing what they’re going to eat, looking forward maybe finding something unexpected or loading up with something totally different from what one ate last time. I agree: I wouldn’t know what to order if I were calling the buffet for take out. Sometimes I use my first pass to get a little of several things, discover a couple things aren’t that great, discover a couple others are awesome, and go back to get a heaping plateful of the latter.

  13. jerry 2020-07-22 19:07

    Sometimes you have to take a look at those who patronize the buffet line. I don’t know Mr. Bergan but I do know Cory, he is a long way from being obese. They are mostly those who are the most prone to covid. There may be some good in that they’re either closing or changing their restaurant layouts. Mashed potatoes and gravy to start the day, when you are not in the fields working for a living, screams diabetes and heart problems.

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