Area restaurants struggle to find food, workers, and low prices

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By Sara Edwards, Cronkite News

Miracle Mile Deli has proudly served pastrami sandwiches for 72 years, but the pandemic has put Josh Garcia’s restaurant into “survival mode.”

“What we’re seeing are the normal products that we were able to get easily, like chicken fillets, we just can’t get them,” Garcia said. Small businesses and restaurants in the area are struggling to stay afloat due to supply chain shortages and price hikes as they compete with Walmart, Amazon and other power plants for them. products intended to fill shelves and pantries. They also compete for workers to fill critical staffing positions.

Garcia touts Miracle Mile as one of the West Coast’s biggest pastrami users; the restaurant serves around 3,000 pounds of pastrami each month. But the price, he said, has increased by $ 2 a pound since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

Wells Fargo Senior Economist Mark Vitner said the $ 5.2 trillion in stimulus checks issued in 2020 and 21 helped jumpstart consumer spending faster than the supply, which closed when demand fell at the start of the pandemic.

“We basically reduced inventory of just about everything, and production tried to catch up,” Vitner said. “We still haven’t got all the jobs that were lost during the pandemic back, and factories and warehouses are struggling to attract workers.”

Vitner said he expects supply chain concerns to be at their peak, with prices rising 7.1% in Phoenix from a year ago, according to data from the October consumer price index.

“I think we have seen a modest gradual improvement over the last few weeks alone,” he said. “And I think six months from now we’ll be in a better place, but we’re not going to completely overcome these supply chain issues for at least a year.”

While restaurants are not as affected by supply chain and shipping issues as other industries, such as construction and homebuilding, small businesses lack the bargaining power when they are. it’s about keeping restaurants open without exhausting staff, Vintner said.

“Some chains are even closing underperforming stores while others are converting to ghost kitchens that serve the delivery market,” he said. “It’s a very difficult environment in which to operate. “

Chip Mahoney, owner of Wicked Brews, Bites & Spirits in Ahwatukee, hasn’t had enough silverware since September. Normally, silverware is washed and folded into cloth napkins at the end of workers’ shifts, but instead he spends his days driving to stores and supply stores in the hopes of finding silverware and other restaurant supplies while the staff washes and folds even during peak hours.

“I drive without going anywhere and I am wasting my day,” he said. “That’s not how I want to run my business – travel the valley in search of the products I need to run my business. “

Wicked Brews celebrated its first anniversary in November, opening for the first time when pandemic dining restrictions limited what the restaurant could do for the first four months. Mahoney said he and his employees worked to promote the new restaurant while adhering to COVID-19 protocols, such as reducing seats and closing a few days a week.

“It was starting to improve until the supply chain and the lack of employee interest, which has really been a drag over the past four months,” said Mahoney. “It’s actually more difficult than when we first opened.”

Mahoney said it was a numbers game, trying to make sure Wicked Brews is stocked with products for the dining room while trying to keep prices low to keep and attract customers. But even with the product price increases that have led to higher menu prices, the bills keep piling up.

The alcohol industry is also affected by shipping and other supply chain issues, with many breweries and distilleries struggling to find supplies to bottle their alcohol.

Brothers Josh and Jason Duren, co-owners of Cider Corps in Mesa, worked hard to get apple juice and fruit to brew their ciders, but they also struggled to find cans for said ciders.

Mahoney said another part of his daily routine is finding employees to work in the restaurant. As a family business, he said the business did not have enough money to pay the number of people needed to properly staff the restaurant.

Mairead Buschtetz and her husband, Fabrice, also struggle to find workers for their multiple restaurants and bistros across the valley, including Cuisine & Wine Bistro in Chandler and Copper & Logs in Gilbert.

It feels like they are in a “vicious cycle,” said Mairead Buschtetz.

“We got a lot of federal help last year to stay open, and we were very lucky, but this year there is no more federal help,” she said.

Normally, Buschtetz said, five people work in the Cuisine & Wine Bistro at a time: her husband, the executive chef of all the restaurants in the family, works with three other cooks and a dishwasher. At the moment, however, Fabrice is the only cook and there is no dishwasher.

Instead, the Buschtetze and their three children fulfilled their role where they could to keep the restaurants in business, with Frenchie Pizza in Gilbert facing the greatest staffing challenges.

Even though she has to hire workers, Mairead said she couldn’t afford to pay them due to rising costs.where in the business. Even with salaries ranging from $ 13 to $ 23 an hour, Mairead said, the family can’t compete with companies like Amazon and Whole Foods.

“Our rent is at least $ 1,000 more expensive, and the case for labor costs is huge, our products being at least 30% more expensive than usual,” she said. “It’s a terrible situation and I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know how long people will be able to hang on.

Many restaurants have had to get creative in changing restaurant concepts or adding partnering experiences to continue to attract customers and fill some of the shortages. Josh Duren of Cider Corps said these challenges have created a “forced level of creativity” that ultimately could benefit US small businesses.

Wild Hare has teamed up with a local chocolate company, Stone Grindz in Scottsdale, to create a tasting event hosted by a chocolatier who has paired different chocolates with their spirits, and Tilton has said they will continue through the holiday season. ; by reservation only on Fridays, Saturdays and certain Sundays.

At Wicked Brews, live music wasn’t something Mahoney intended to provide, but since its introduction during the pandemic, it’s become a regular thing on Wednesday and Friday nights.

“You have to adjust your business plan, know your market and your guests to stay on top,” he said. “Every penny counts right now. “

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