First the pandemic, now inflation: Edmonton restaurants struggling amid rising food costs

The cost of almost everything is going up with inflation, and the extra hurdle is starting to affect the restaurant industry, which has already been struggling over the last few years.

Pasta Pantry, which has been serving up Italian eats in Edmonton and area for nearly 30 years, had to close one of its two locations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, more customers have been coming in to Pasta Pantry’s remaining location in Sherwood Park. Business is up, but not to the level it was before the start of the pandemic.

That’s good news, but it’s coming at a time when food costs are going up across the country. Last month, Statistics Canada reported that Canadians paid 9.7 per cent for food in April compared to April 2021.

To cope with increased costs, restaurants need to raise prices on their menus or eat up the additional costs.

Pasta Pantry’s owner, Nathan Satanove, said it’s getting harder to turn a profit.

“There’s days where we place orders and we don’t know what food’s going to cost ’til it lands on our door,” Satanove said in an interview this week.

“Typically, a full case of romaine [lettuce] would be $35 to $40, and a few weeks back it was showing up at our door at $109.”

Satanove said he’s had to raise some prices to offset the higher food costs, but he can only charge customers so much before it becomes unreasonable.

Fewer customers, rising costs

Other Edmonton businesses are also struggling.

Transit Smokehouse and BBQ in Edmonton opened last September. Co-owner David Egan said he’s worried about how much longer the doors can remain open if business doesn’t improve. 

“Not only are less people eating out, but our our food costs have increased substantially,” Egan said. “Our signature dish is salt beef brisket, and our beef costs have almost doubled in the last year.”

Edmonton restaurants struggling to keep up with rising costs

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Some Edmonton restaurant owners say they are worried the increasing cost of food and lower demand for dine-in eating will drive them out of business.

He said many in the hospitality industry are trying to manage the best they can.

“We don’t know when the price of goods will come down and we don’t know when wages are going to catch up,” Egan said.

“I think an economist called this stagflation, where the prices of everything go up and wages don’t keep up.”

David Egan, co-owner of Transit Smokehouse and BBQ, said rising prices and less people spending it hurting local restaurants. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

The Edmonton Independent Hospitality Community Organization, a lobby group that formed after the start of the pandemic, says restaurants and bars are hurting for customers.

“People don’t have that same amount of money to be able to be spending every single day to keep up with these inflation costs at our businesses, to keep people employed and keep the businesses busy,” said co-founder Kristoffer Harvey.

The organization said some restaurants are having to cut back on staff and opening hours to save money.

At the other end of the spectrum, other hospitality businesses such as hotels are struggling to bring in enough staff, according to the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association.

“I know hotels that are just struggling to provide daily housekeeping,” said association president Dave Kaiser.

He said he was at a resort hotel a month ago, and that it was busy.

“But at check-in they informed us that their lounge or pub wasn’t open because they just don’t have people to staff it,” he said. “So those are missed revenue opportunities. Those are missed opportunities for the economy as well.”

Shop local, restaurants urge

Harvey said the Edmonton lobby group wants to see the federal and provincial governments provide subsidies to help help restaurants stay afloat.

At the Transit Smokehouse, Egan is hoping for a more grassroots solution — urging customers to steer clear of delivery apps that charge restaurants large fees.

“The best way to support local is just to go directly to the restaurant,” he said. “If you can’t do dine-in, do takeout.”

Pasta Pantry owner Satanove said he’s hopeful the lull in customer traffic will pass.

“I think that Alberta has a very strong economy and people are working,” he said. “When you’re working and have a part-time job on top of your daily job, you might want to get some takeout to go home.”

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