Finding adequate staffing has been a struggle for Dan Kouri, co-owner of the Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri’s Grill & Bar and a Sonic Restaurant. He said the Lariat is operating with 70% of the staff it needs.
“It really is what everybody’s been saying, that the labor market is extremely tight in the Peoria market,” said Kouri, who is also president of the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.
A lack of staff has forced some local restaurants to cut back on hours and days of operation. Sid Ruckriegel, an entrepreneur and at-large member of Peoria City Council, said curbing hours can work well for businesses looking to maximize service with a limited staff.
But Kouri disagrees with this approach. Every day a business is closed, he said, owners are losing money that could be used to pay rent, taxes and other recurring costs.
“All that stuff keeps on coming and there’s no reprieve from that,” Kouri said. “So, it’s a snowball effect and sooner or later, these places aren’t going to survive.”
At the Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri recounted one night when a customer was left shocked by the price of alcoholic beverages at the restaurant. Although he said the customer was understanding when he explained the rising costs of operation, Kouri said many customers are surprised to learn just how drastically inflation is affecting restaurants.
Even the price of Heinz ketchup, Kouri said, is now twice what it once was.
This increase, Kouri and Ruckriegel agreed, disproportionately impacts 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 that may not have the buying power of some of the larger groups, it becomes a really difficult situation.”
Many of the larger chain restaurants, Kouri said, have a much stronger ability to negotiate the cost of food. Because of costs, Ruckriegel said, smaller establishments are forced to be “more nimble” when attempting to balance the cost of supplies and profit.
Non-food expenses have also increased. Ruckriegel said repair and utility prices have gone up, and Kouri said businesses are also seeing an increase in the cost of transportation for goods.
“So, you can see all the cost starts to double and multiply,” Kouri said. “And then, in the state of Illinois, our governor felt that we needed minimum wage increases over five years’ span. So now that’s increasing our cost on top of the inflation. It’s increase after increase after increase.”
For Kouri, the city of Peoria is not making it easy for businesses to operate either. 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. In the end, he said it is the city’s goal to ensure the restaurant industry weathers the current challenges.
With the tax rate, however, Kouri said he feels like “we are working for the city of Peoria right now.”
“They keep hitting us with more and more fees because they’ve got less and less people paying,” Kouri said. “So, it’s a snowball effect. We’re hamstrung. You know, what do you do? Our roots are here in Peoria. Peoria is a great community, but quite honestly it is getting harder to be able to afford Peoria.”
Connect with Cassidy Waigand by emailing her at [email protected] or by following her on Twitter at @justxaxwriter.