For Dan Kouri, co-owner of Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri’s Grill & Bar and a Sonic restaurant, finding the right staff has been difficult. He said the Lariat is working with 70% of the staff it needs.
“It’s really what everyone says the job market is extremely tight in Peoria,” said Kouri, who is also president of the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.
A shortage of staff has forced some local restaurants to reduce hours and days of operations. Sid Ruckriegel, an entrepreneur and general member of the Peoria City Council, said reducing hours can work well for businesses looking to maximize service with limited staff.
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 costs.
“All that stuff keeps coming back and there’s no mercy for it,” Kouri said. “So it’s a snowball effect and sooner or later those places aren’t going to survive.”
At the Lariat Steakhouse, Kouri recounted a night when a customer was shocked by the prices of alcoholic drinks at the restaurant. Although he said the customer understood when explaining the rising operating costs, Kouri said many customers were surprised to learn how drastically inflation is affecting restaurants.
Even the price of Heinz ketchup, Kouri said, is now double what it used to be.
Kouri and Ruckriegel agreed that this increase would have a disproportionate effect on the “mom and pop business” in the Peoria community.
“It was a fight,” said Ruckriegel. “We’ve seen restaurants closing lately and it’s going to be a really difficult situation for operators who may not have the spending power of some of the larger groups.”
Many of the larger restaurant chains, Kouri said, have a much stronger ability to negotiate the cost of groceries. For cost reasons, Ruckriegel said, smaller farms are being forced to be “more flexible” when trying to balance supply costs and profits.
Non-food spending has also increased. Ruckriegel said prices for repairs and utilities have increased, and Kouri said companies are also seeing an increase in the cost of transporting goods.
“So you can see all the costs are doubling and multiplying,” Kouri said. “And then our Illinois state governor thought we needed minimum wage increases over a five-year period. This now increases our costs on top of inflation. It’s increase upon increase upon increase.”
For Kouri, the city of Peoria doesn’t make it easy for companies to operate, either. He said he sees higher tax rates and costs to operate in Peoria than in Germantown and Pekin, where his other restaurants are located.
Ruckriegel said open dialogue and discussions with business are important for the city. He concluded by saying that the city’s goal is to ensure the hospitality industry meets the current challenges.
With the tax rate, however, Kouri said he felt “we’re working for the city of Peoria right now.”
“They hit us with more and more fees because fewer and fewer people are paying,” Kouri said. “So it’s a snowball effect. We are paralyzed. Do you know what are you doing? Our roots are here in Peoria. Peoria is a great community, but honestly, Peoria is getting harder and harder to afford.”
Connect with Cassidy Waigand by emailing her at CWaigand@gannett.com or by following her on Twitter at @justxaxwriter.