• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

Inflation affects Oregon’s restaurant industry

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Jul 4, 2022

According to Oregon’s Restaurant and Lodging Association, wholesale food prices in the state have increased 18% each year since 2020.

AURORA, Oregon – Nestled behind gardens off Pacific Highway in Aurora is an 1800s-style farmhouse converted into a restaurant. It’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, the start of lunch shift and the busiest time of the day for employees at Filbert Farm Kitchen.

“It’s definitely been the toughest part of my 30-year career, without a shadow of a doubt,” said general manager Aaron Wolfe.

The family restaurant opened just a year before the pandemic hit.

“We had exceptional success in that first year, then in February, and then everything after that was really, really tough,” Wolfe said.

Pandemic restrictions have eased, but new issues have emerged that prevent a return to the kind of top-flight conditions the restaurant enjoyed in 2019.

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Since reopening after the peak of the pandemic, Wolfe said the restaurant has been increasingly feeling the effects of inflation. At this point, the overall food cost has increased by at least 20%.

“Food prices became very noticeable at that time,” he said. “It was a bit out of control.”

In one example, the restaurant now spends $5,200 a month on root vegetables, about $2,000 more than usual.

This increase is felt in almost every kitchen in Oregon.

“Restaurants, like consumers, face an incredible challenge,” said Jason Brandt, President and CEO of Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.

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According to the group’s records, wholesale food prices in the state have risen 18% every year since 2020, the biggest increase in 50 years.

Records also show that over the past two years, about 750 of Oregon’s roughly 10,000 restaurants have closed due to inflationary pressures and the pandemic.

“Restaurants are out there finding a way to make it work, doing their best to survive,” Brandt said.

“Restaurants are just charging what they have to charge to maintain cash flow,” Wolfe added.

Filberts Farmhouse Kitchen consolidated its menu by 60% and increased the price of each item. Salmon, for example, went from $28 to $38.

“It’s a living document,” Wolfe said of the menu. “We constantly have to change it to make sure we are accountable to the owner and to the guests. It’s a two-way street.

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The restaurant has also consolidated its hours of operation, only opening during the busiest times.

“For every dollar of food and beverage we sell, 95 cents of that dollar is reinvested back into the food, the employees who work there, and the place,” Brandt explained.

“We’re just trying to find a way to balance the costs, it’s very difficult,” added Wolfe.

The fear of some restaurateurs is not whether or not they can stay in business, but that if this trend continues, customers will stop going out to eat altogether, jeopardizing the future of this industry. Wolfe said he had a message for customers frustrated by the price hike.

“I completely understand,” he said. I hate filling up with gas. I go out less either, but the only thing I can tell you is that we want to be there for you in two years when things get better, in six months when things get better, in ten years when things get better, and the only way for us to be there and survive until this point is to charge what we have to charge now or no one would be there.

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