CURSE OR CONUNDRUM?: Folklore joins the chorus of failed ventures at 36 MLK, Jr Blvd



It is absolutely fair to say this one caught most of us by surprise. If you believe everything you hear, that would include some of the employees.

Folklore, an attractive and relatively popular fine dining-ish restaurant Downtown Savannah announced it would be closing for good on June 20, bringing to an end a very short six month run on the corner of MLK and Congress Streets.

“Very short” is being generous. six months in restaurant time is the opposite of dog years. In a lot of cases, it takes you six months to learn all of your co-workers names.

The announcement came suddenly and as a total surprise to some of their regulars. Patrons with reservations were notified via email that their reservation was cancelled and the restaurant was closed for good effective June 20.

I have found it fascinating over the years at how quickly ‘clicks’ will race to a story about a restaurant closing. Everyone wants to know the gossip. Everyone thinks they have the answers as to why, when the reality is only the people signing the checks inside know the real reasons why a business shuts its doors.

In this case, it appears to be a simple case of economics. A simple statement on Folklore’s website thanks the community for its support, then makes reference to rising food and labor costs. Issues that plague every restaurant in America, true, but sometimes a new one is unable to withstand dramatic changes in the landscape. Every investor out there gets tired of scratching checks when the return you are seeing is minimal. With the threshold for pain being different for every person on earth.

One of the most popular restaurants in Savannah feared failure in year one. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it almost a year in.” is how that restaurant’s owner has put it to me. “Eventually, everything fell in place.

That restaurant opened pre-2020. That was before the cost of labor went through the roof. That was before thin profit margins found themselves getting dramatically thinner.

So many people think owning a restaurant is as simple as finding a spot, cooking some food, and counting your millions. Any restaurant owner reading this right now just had a laugh. You’re welcome.

So it would appear that Folklore underperformed, which happens. What caught me a little off guard by the announcement was my conversation with Executive Chef Ryan Whyte Buck back in the Fall. Like so many chefs, Chef wanted to try something different but also offer the masses something they would embrace.

As such, the reviews were mixed at Folklore, with some people calling the menu “too avant-garde,” and others saying it was good and/or great. Chef Ryan is talented and creative. It would have been nice to see him get more than six months to figure it out.

Meanwhile, Folklore’s closing brings to an end another chapter in the ongoing horror story whose working title is “36 MLK, Jr Blvd”. So many have tried to make something work there with very little success.

So many have tried and failed that the cynics will tell you the space is “cursed.” A lazy take, of course. The reality is—from this seat anyway—that the demos that frequent that micro-section of downtown don’t necessarily mix with higher end dining and cocktails. There are too many such spots downtown to make going “all the way” to Congress and MLK a viable option.

Let’s hope someone figures it out, and dials it down a notch or two on that corner sooner rather than later. Then we can all get back to eating and liking.