Finding adequate staffing has been a struggle for Dan Kouri, co-owner of Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri’s Grill & Bar and a Sonic Restaurant. He said Lariat is operating with 70% of the staff it needs.
“It’s really what everyone has been saying, that the job market is extremely tight in the Peoria market,”[ads1]; said Kouri, who is also president of the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.
Staff shortages have forced some local restaurants to cut back on hours and days of operation. Sid Ruckriegel, an entrepreneur and at-large member of the Peoria City Council, said it can work well for businesses that want to maximize service with a limited number of employees.
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But Kouri disagrees with this approach. Every day a business is closed, he said, owners lose money that could be used to pay rent, taxes and other recurring costs.
“All those things keep coming and there’s no reprieve from that,” Kouri said. “So it’s a snowball effect, and sooner or later these places are not going to survive.”
At Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri recounted one night when a customer was shocked by the price of alcoholic beverages at the restaurant. Although he said the customer was understanding when he explained the rising operating costs, Kouri said many customers are surprised to learn how drastically inflation affects restaurants.
Even the price of Heinz ketchup, Kouri said, is now double what it once was.
Kouri and Ruckriegel agreed that this increase disproportionately affects the “mom and pop” businesses in the Peoria community.
“It’s been a struggle,” Ruckriegel said. “We’ve seen restaurants close recently and for the operators who may not have the buying power of some of the larger groups, it’s going to be a very difficult situation.”
Many of the larger chain restaurants, Kouri said, have a much stronger ability to negotiate the cost of food. Because of the costs, Ruckriegel said, smaller businesses are forced to be “more nimble” as they try to balance the cost of supplies and profits.
Non-food expenditure has also increased. Ruckriegel said repair and utility prices have gone up, and Kouri said businesses are also seeing an increase in the cost of transporting goods.
“So you can see all the costs start to double and multiply,” Kouri said. “And then, in the state of Illinois, our governor felt we needed minimum wage increases over five years. So now it’s increasing our costs on top of inflation. It’s increase after increase after increase.”
For Kouri, the city of Peoria also does not make it easy for businesses to operate. He said he sees higher tax rates and costs when it comes to operating in Peoria than he does in Germantown and Pekin, where his other restaurants are located.
Ruckriegel said open dialogue and conversations with the business community are important for the city. Finally, he said that it is the city’s goal to ensure that the restaurant industry copes with today’s challenges.
With the tax rate, however, Kouri said he feels “we’re working for the city of Peoria right now.”
“They keep hitting us with more and more fees because they have fewer and fewer people paying,” Kouri said. “So it’s a snowball effect. We’re hoarded. You know, what do you do? Our roots are here in Peoria. Peoria is a great community, but frankly, it’s getting harder to afford Peoria.”
Contact Cassidy Waigand by emailing her at CWaigand@gannett.com or by following her on Twitter at @justxaxwriter.