Olivia Johnson contributed to this article.
As inflation, labor shortages and the cost of running a business rise, many local restaurants have barely been able to keep afloat. However, many have foundered under the pressure.
Locally, restaurants like Global Sports Bar and Seafood on West Point Road closed permanently earlier this month, one victim of the pandemic which has affected restaurants across the county.
Restaurant owner King Wang has been in the restaurant business for years and owns Global Beverage Superstore a few buildings away from the restaurant. Like other affected restaurants, Wang noted staffing shortages and liability risks.
“I didn’t necessarily want to close, but with staff and business stockpiling being slow, I had to close for the time being,” he said.
Wang has been in the restaurant business for years and owns Global Beverage Superstore next to the restaurant. Global Sports Bar opened in 2019.
In Hogansville, The Great Southern Pub closed in early June. The Pub owner Barry Morgan was contacted for comment after the closure but did not respond.
Posts on The Pub’s Facebook page said the business had to close for extended periods due to sick staff members in May.
Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association and former restaurant owner, said these issues have become day-to-day issues for restaurants of varying capacities across the state.
“There are people who just don’t survive,” Bremer said. “Between staffing and inflationary pressures for commodities and food, this is affecting restaurants greatly.”
Bremer said rising prices are prompting Americans to cut back on discretionary spending. For fast food restaurants in particular, the average price for a main course is around $10.50, an increase of over 30% from 2019.
Rising prices have also led to wage increases for restaurant workers, Bremer said.
“The cost of food over the past year is up more than 18% and labor costs are up 13% now,” Bremer said.
During the initial pandemic, many restaurant workers left the industry to pursue different careers when restaurants reduced staff or temporarily closed, Bremer said. Many women have specifically worked in caretaking roles and still haven’t ventured into the workforce as they did before 2020. Many female workers have also taken early retirement.
Another recently discovered challenge is the number of entry-level workers available, Bremer noted.
“The entry level for any industry is the 18-24 age group. This age group is made up of people who are graduating from high school or college, and right now there are fewer than people [entering the workforce] of that age group,” Bremer said.
This struggle has not stopped new restaurants from opening or even expanding.
Bull Hibachi, a Japanese restaurant in Troup County, opened its third West Point location earlier this year. The restaurant’s owner is expanding into a nearby building – the former CheesyMac Deli – to open a related ice cream and boba tea business. Hogansville also experienced a modest boom with the introduction of a new upscale restaurant, 54 and Main, the Twin Mills Winery and even a new cafe, Fuel Coffee.
Even Wang said he planned to open another restaurant.
“I’m working on it right now. Hopefully in a few weeks I will know what is going on,” Wang said.
Bremer said those with the resources to negotiate leases may be able to open restaurants at a lower cost when they open in older restaurants that are already equipped.
Currently, Bremer predicts that the next year and a half will be a real test for restaurants at all levels. Some will survive, others will collapse. Bremer noted from personal experience that high-end restaurants will see greater success, although fast food restaurants, due to lack of workers, will take a harder hit than before.
“Those who were in precarious situations before the rise in gas prices and inflation will have a hard time getting out of it,” Bremer said. “Those who are more financially stable when entering the business will have a better chance of survival. [Restaurants] will never get back the money they lost to the financial devastation of 2020.”
Of approximately 19,000 restaurants in Georgia that existed in 2020, 60% have temporarily closed due to COVID restrictions. About 4,000 closed in total. Bremer estimates from past data that it was a loss of nearly $5 billion in restaurant revenue statewide.