Finding the right staff has been a struggle for Dan Kouri, co-owner of Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri’s Grill & Bar and Sonic Restaurant. He said that Lariat is operating with 70% of the staff it needs.
“It really is what everyone has been saying, that the job market is extremely tight in the Peoria market,” said Kouri, who is also president of the Illinois Heart Hospitality Association.
The lack of staff has forced some local restaurants to reduce the hours and days of operation. Sid Ruckriegel, a businessman and Peoria City Council at-large member, said cutting hours can work well for businesses looking to maximize service with a limited staff.
Plus:Manufacturing and restaurant industries ‘trying to think creatively’ about hiring issues in Illinois
But Kouri disagrees with this approach. Every day he closes a business, 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 respite for it,” Kouri said. “So it’s a snowball effect and sooner or later these places are not going to survive.”
At Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri recounted a night when a customer was shocked by the price of alcoholic beverages at the restaurant. Although he said the customer understood when he explained the rising operating costs, Kouri said many customers are surprised to learn how drastically inflation is affecting restaurants.
Even the price of Heinz ketchup, Kouri said, is now double what it was before.
This increase, Kouri and Ruckriegel agreed, disproportionately affects “mom and pop” businesses in the Peoria community.
“It’s been a struggle,” Ruckriegel said. “We’ve seen restaurants close recently, and for operators that may not have the buying power of some of the larger groups, it becomes a really difficult situation.”
Many of the larger restaurant chains, Kouri said, have much greater ability to negotiate the cost of food. Because of costs, Ruckriegel said, smaller establishments are forced to be “more nimble” when trying to balance the cost of supplies and profit.
Non-food expenses have also increased. Ruckriegel said prices for repairs and utilities have gone up, and Kouri said businesses are also seeing an increase in the cost of freight.
“So, you can see the whole cost starts to double and multiply,” Kouri said. “And then in the state of Illinois, our governor felt we needed minimum wage increases within five years. So now that’s increasing our cost on top of inflation. It is increase after increase after increase.”
For Kouri, the city of Peoria does not facilitate the operation of companies either. He said he sees higher tax rates and costs when it comes to operating in Peoria than in Germantown and Pekin, 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 meets current challenges.
With the tax rate, however, Kouri said he feels like “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 are paralyzed. You know, what do you do? Our roots are here in Peoria. Peoria is a great community, but honestly, it’s getting harder and harder to afford Peoria.”
Connect with Cassidy Waigand by emailing her at CWaigand@gannett.com or following her on Twitter at @justxaxwriter.
Leave a Comment