Full Steam Ahead At Faneek’s

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Full Steam Ahead At Faneek’s

Ashley Schuler
The Herald News

FALL RIVER — What’s new at Faneek’s Coney Island? Better question is what’s not new?

From makeover inside and out to delivery services that bring your Faneek’s favorites straight to your door to community partnerships and expanded ordering options, it’s been a busy year and a half at one of the city’s most beloved hot dog joints as it emerges from the pandemic with fresh outlook for the future and fresh ideas.

And with a new, bright blue facade, which coincidentally — or perhaps not so coincidentally — matches the city’s own Braga Bridge, it’s hard not to take notice.

But exterior changes are just one of the many exciting things happening at the Rhode Island Avenue business, a Fall River fixture since 1966.

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“I haven’t stopped. No rest for the wicked,” jokes Faneek’s owner Liz Carpenter, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Chris, who’s carrying on the Faneek’s family legacy his grandparents started in 1979.

And no rest is right.

Thinking outside the box

The pandemic forced local businesses to adapt in many ways, and Faneek’s was no exception. While admittedly terrifying at first, the couple’s “2 a.m. thoughts” that became reality have taken off and helped Faneek’s weather the unprecedented storm.
Among their outside-the-box ventures were some creative food delivery options. “Say It With Soup” launched in January and proved to be a big hit with customers in the cold weather months.

“You wouldn’t even think so, but let me tell you, soup is where it’s at!” Carpenter said.
Who doesn’t love the gift of a hot container of soup hand-delivered with a special note from a loved one? As the slogan goes “Soup soothes your soul, so send somebody a warm hug.” Which is just what the Carpenters aim to do.

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Marketed in the same vein as Edible Arrangements, customers can use the service to send soup to someone to either show condolences in lieu of flowers, or as a pick-me-up for someone who’s sick or as a “just because” gift. Many even order for themselves.
“It was a huge success so that helped supplement the loss of sales from COVID,” Carpenter said. “If the people don’t want to come to you then you need to go to the people.”

At sayitwithsoupclub.com, which can be found in a separate tab on Faneek’s website, they offer several flavors of soup — either quart of half-gallon bucket — made to order and delivered hot.

Carpenter said their most popular offerings are the stuffed pepper soup and the spicy shrimp ramen. They also take suggestions and have since added vegan options —  substituting any of the meats for vegan crumbles — and low-carb friendly options.

“We work with our customers so whatever they want we give them,” said Carpenter.

Aside from soup they also offer delivery of items such as fresh rolls, hot dogs, clam cakes and chowder and Coney sauce. Within that brand there’s also Say It With Sweets, which delivers cupcakes and cookies.

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Carpenter is pretty much a one-woman show with their latest endeavors. From the concept to the cooking to the delivery, she does it all — with help from her husband when he’s not working his full-time job as a director of sales and marketing for Restaurant Depot.
She said she loves watching people’s faces light up with surprise upon receiving their food.

“People are ecstatic about it, it’s great,” Carpenter said.

B2B luncheon takes off

Once soup season ended and they started to see the decline in sales, it got Carpenter thinking about a new venture, and this past summer the ball got rolling on Faneek’s B2B (Business to Business) luncheon program.

B2B brings lunch and dinner to various Fall River businesses, nursing homes, schools, supermarkets and adult day care facilities. Members are offered the full Faneek’s menu — catered however they want — and can sign up for weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly delivery, or just a one-time treat.

Carpenter said she’s found B2B to be popular as businesses look to show their employees appreciation by treating their staff to lunch during these trying times.

“They’re really stepping up, especially the smaller businesses, trying to make their employees know they they are appreciated, especially with such a high turnover rate lately,” she said.

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With B2B the hottest items are their signature Coney Island hot dogs, fish and chips and chow mein. Carpenter said they’re also set up to cook items such as clam cakes and chowder or fish and chips fresh to order at the business.

Carpenter said the B2B luncheon is a particularly huge hit at nursing homes whose older residents have fond memories of visiting Faneek’s for franks as young kids.

“We now have about four nursing homes signed up. I will bring Faneek’s to them so that their residents are able to enjoy the hot dogs they have loved and grown up with,” Carpenter said.

One of the first initiatives to take off amid COVID was Faneek’s Pay it Forward program, which they started in July 2020.

But with so many people donating to it and not enough people using it, they decided to donate the funds in a different way. Faneek’s partnered with Fall River’s Holy Trinity School and Child and Family Services and funds collected through the Pay it Forward program are now used to either treat Holy Trinity kids to a hot dog lunch or sent in the form of gift cards to Child and Family Services to use as a meal.

Outdoor dining ‘the best thing that happened’

Carpenters put in the outdoor dining area in the summer of 2020 in response to the indoor dining rooms being closed last year because of COVID. She said expanding the outdoor seating area was always on their list of things to do but with the pandemic got bumped up to priority.

“It’s probably the best thing that’s happened from COVID for us,” said Carpenter, noting the most recent changes were made in August.
What started with just two picnic tables that were shoved against the building has grown to seven outdoor tables and a cute space to enjoy food outdoors.

They eventually added a screen for privacy and to separate diners from the parking lot, a small garden in memory of two late owners of Faneek’s, and a pergola with some sunsetters, so “now we can use it as a more all-season area,” she said.

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“People love it outside, especially in the fall because you have the change in season and a lot of people want to spend the day outside… it definitely picks up in the fall,” Carpenter said.

There’s also a takeout window set up on the side of the building that they’re now keeping open year-round for people who are not comfortable coming indoors. The window was something they always had, but never really focused on until COVID came.
When Faneek’s was forced to close the dining room for four months — from May to August 2020 — due to the state’s COVID restrictions, Carpenter said they were able to remain open because of the walkup window.

Now that the indoor dining room is back to 100 percent capacity and slowly welcoming back familiar faces, you will spot some updates there too, from reupholstered tables to new chairs and a reorganized seating area, which now includes nine tables.

And who could miss the building’s bright new hue — a beacon to all who journey the city in search of comfort food and a friendly smile.

This past July, when Carpenter found herself so short-staffed Faneek’s had to close for a week, she reached for a paint brush and teamed up with two employees to add a pop of color to the city’s South End.

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There are even more changes in store for the building in the near future as the Carpenters hope to team up with Holy Trinity students to paint a mural outside the restaurant.

Adapting amid staffing woes

In an effort to better accommodate patrons during COVID, and address staffing woes, Faneek’s added some self-ordering options. Diners can now place an order at their table by scanning a QR code and Faneek’s staff will bring the food out to them.

There’s also a new self-order kiosk for patrons to use, so there’s no need to stand in a long line waiting for counter service.

According to Carpenter, the decision to streamline their ordering process and turn toward technology was born out of necessity.
“We made that change because of the lack of help we had,” Carpenter said. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we stay open if everyone calls in sick?'”

Among the biggest challenges Faneek’s has faced in the past year has been maintaining adequate staffing, Carpenter said. Faneek’s usually has eight employees, and are now down to just three people.

“Since July we started having people drop like flies and just not able to get people to come in… I can’t even get applications, it’s very hard,” she said.

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And the lack of help has forced them to make other unfortunate but necessary changes, such as restructuring their hours of operation.
Starting the week of Oct. 19, Faneek’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. They decided to close on Mondays, in addition to the usual Sunday, which she said “was a new thing because of COVID so that I wouldn’t burn out my staff,” as well as cut off a couple of evening hours.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than going into a restaurant and having it open and sitting there waiting for your food … so if we are not able to keep up with the customer service that we want to provide I don’t see any purpose staying open for those hours,” Carpenter said.

She said customers have been very understanding of the changes.

“We have probably the most loyal customers… they recognize everything we’ve been doing and have been so understanding with everything and all the changes we are forced to make,” Carpenter said.

Which is important, Carpenter said, since their business is very much community-oriented.

“When we took over the business I had always made it a priority to make sure that we give back to the community that’s supporting us,” she said.

Commitment to the community

One way they do so is by organizing special events for patrons, such as Coney Crush hot dog eating contest, which took a backseat because of the pandemic in 2020 but has returned this year. They also host a popular Trunk or Treat, which drew about 600 kids its first year, and was tweaked last year to keep up with the Halloween tradition amid COVID.

She said she’s still figuring out what to do for this year’s Halloween festivities, which are complicated by the lack of help.
“That is probably the hardest thing right now to realize I don’t have enough help to put on the events that I’ve been putting on,” she said.
One community event that Carpenter spearheaded this year and is hoping to make an annual tradition is the Faneek’n Fall River essay contest.

Seventh and eighth-grade students from Holy Trinity were asked to write an essay about historical events, places and people in Fall River, which were then posted on Faneek’s website and community members were able to vote for their favorite. Younger students also took part with drawings of famous people, places and things in the Spindle City, which were put up on display at the eatery.

She said community was the driving force for staying open during the pandemic, because it would have been so much easier to just close.
“We wanted to make sure we allowed people that little semblance of normalcy… so something as simple as shopping at Faneek’s to get your hot dogs when everyone else is closed,” she said. “So many changes are going on and so many people don’t know what to do with these changes so it’s the least we can do to provide that little itty bitty bit of happiness.”

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Despite the many challenges Faneek’s has faced in the past year and a half, Carpenter acknowledges that they’ve been “very blessed.”
“The most positive note to take away is that if you think outside the box you can overcome anything,” Carpenter said. “It makes it a little less scary to be running a business knowing that we survived a pandemic and we’re still here.”

Going forward, Carpenter said the goal is to build on what they’ve started. They’re hoping to hire more staff to get back to regular operating hours, and in the meantime are focused on remaining adaptable and flexible and “just rolling with the punches.”