Restaurant owners feeling strain from rising costs, lack of employees

Published 12:28 am Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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NEDERLAND — It’s a phrase heard all around Southeast Texas — shop local.

But as the cost of rising food prices meets high unemployment rates, it’s becoming a plea for local restaurant owners.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Kenny Mings, who owns Touch of Cajun Café on Boston Avenue in Nederland. “It’s the lack of customers coming through the door. People are just not spending money right now. The economy is in a downward spiral.”

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But for the customers who visit Mings’ restaurant, keeping enough employees to serve them has also been a challenge.

“The real problem is, this generation that we’re up against now, if they’re not happy with what they’re doing, they’ll just go down the road because the job down the road pays as much as they make here,” he said. “It’s too easy to get another job now. Everyone is hiring; everyone is paying the same. I don’t know of a restaurant that isn’t hiring right now.”

Mings said he recently took a trip down Nederland Avenue and saw “now hiring” signs outside a majority of eateries.

Yet aggressive efforts to find employees, he said, have been fruitless.

On Sunday, the entrepreneur made a Facebook post to announce the need for hiring. By Monday afternoon it had been shared 78 times with 17,052 impressions.

“I still haven’t had anyone come through the door,” he said. “It just blows my mind. People support chain restaurants. They don’t support mom and pops. Go look at restaurants at 6:30 p.m. The chains have lines out the door. Then go to a local mom and pop place and they’re not busy. You have no wait. There are so many mom and pop restaurants and people are not supporting them.”

Down the road at Judice’s 1927, owner Al Judice isn’t struggling with retaining employees. But he is dealing with a trend that strikes most restaurants during this time of year.

“Right now everyone is going on vacation,” he said. “The first couple of weeks of summer are slower because people have been planning vacations with their kids. And July is so hot. People aren’t wanting to eat heavy meals when it’s 100-something degrees outside.”

In August, he said, families are preparing for the next school year.

“Employees have never been a problem. We pay the most we can afford,” he said. “Utilities are higher than before. My property taxes doubled. Most independents I know, when they’re down, those guys aren’t taking paychecks that week so they can pay their employees. It’s just tough. It’s a tough business.”

Mings said he was able to get a spot at the city’s July 4th event because two non-profit vendors had to back out due to a lack of volunteers.

But he hopes to find some more support from areas such as the Nederland business groups.

“Why do a business of the month? Feature one every day,” he said. “Towns should be featuring more businesses.”