Finding adequate staff has been difficult for Dan Kouri, co-owner of Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri’s Grill & Bar and Sonic Restaurant. I said the Lariat is running at 70% of the shots it needs.
“That’s really what everybody’s saying is that the job market in the Peoria market is extremely tight,” said Koury, who is president of the Illinois Hospitality Association.
Staffing shortages have forced some local restaurants to cut back hours and days. Sid Ruckriegel, entrepreneur and Peoria City Council at-large, said curfew hours can work well for businesses looking to maximize service with limited staff.
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But Kouri disagrees with this approach. Every day a business closes, owners lose money that could be used to pay rent, taxes and other recurring expenses, he said.
“All these things keep coming and there’s no respite from it,” Koury said. “So it’s a snowball effect and sooner or later these places won’t survive.”
At Lariat Steakhouse, Koury recounted how one night a customer was shocked by the price of alcohol at the restaurant. While he said he understood when the customer explained the increased operating costs, Koury said many customers were surprised when they learned how badly inflation was affecting restaurants.
According to Koury, even Heinz ketchup now costs twice as much as it used to.
That growth, Kouri and Ruckriegel agreed, disproportionately affects “mom and pop” businesses in the Peoria community.
“It was a struggle,” Ruckriegel said. “We’ve seen restaurants close recently and it’s becoming a really tough situation for operators who don’t have the buying power of some of the bigger groups.”
According to Kouri, many of the larger chain restaurants have a stronger ability to negotiate food prices. Ruckriegel said that because of the costs, small businesses are forced to be “more flexible” when trying to balance the cost of supply and profit.
Non-food expenses have also increased. Ruckriegel said the cost of repairs and utilities has increased, and Kouri said businesses have also seen increases in freight costs.
“So you can see all the costs start to double,” Koury said. “And then our governor in Illinois felt we needed a minimum wage increase for five years. So now it’s increasing our costs on top of inflation. Increase after increase.”
For Kouri, the city of Peoria doesn’t make it easy for businesses either. He said he’s seen higher tax rates and costs than in Germantown and Beijing, where his other restaurants are located.
Ruckriegel said open dialogue and conversations with the business community are important to the city. In the end, he said, the city’s goal is to ensure the restaurant industry can withstand the current challenges.
With the tax rate, however, Koury said he feels like “we’re working for the city of Peoria right now.”
“They keep hitting us with more and more fees because less and less people are paying,” Koury said. “So it’s a snowball effect. We are crushed. Do you know what you are doing? Our roots are here in Peoria. Peoria is a great community, but honestly, it’s getting harder and harder to afford Peoria.
Contact Cassidy Waigand by emailing him at CWaigand@gannett.com or following him on Twitter at @justxaxwriter.
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