Today, many local restaurants that survived are still climbing out of the hole, beleaguered by the lingering fallout from a pandemic that has permanently changed the industry in many ways.
Sofi Kinde, owner of Nanyea, an Ethiopian restaurant on Dixie Drive in North Dayton, said her small business survived the closure only because of generous donations from customers. Nanyea continues to struggle to make a profit and Kinde may close the restaurant.
She often doesn’t have enough customers to justify paying an employee to keep the restaurant open.
“All of this happened because of the pandemic. We were doing very well. We were busy,” she said. “The other problem right now is that everything is expensive or you can’t find it. And I’m afraid to raise prices because I don’t want to lose my customers.
Many restaurants have raised their prices to meet rising costs. Whited and other restaurateurs echoed that finding affordable supplies is a huge problem. Baker of the Ohio Restaurant Association said rising prices and supply chain issues are likely to persist for some time, at least as long as the invasion of Ukraine continues to disrupt the global economy. He said rising gas prices could even make the situation worse.
Fortunately, staffing issues appear to be easing as more people return to work, Baker said. Kelly Byrd, general manager of Spaghetti Warehouse in Dayton and manager of the recently reopened Corner Kitchen, said finding employees was a major issue, but that’s slowly starting to improve.
“It’s still very difficult to find good team members in the background,” he said.
For better or for worse, the pandemic has changed the industry forever. Byrd said restaurants have had to focus on more deliveries and deliveries; streamline menus so they can specialize and retain smaller kitchen teams; and focus on building bar business, as drinks offer better profit margins than food.
Still, Dayton-area restaurant managers are optimistic that diners will return in greater numbers now that the pandemic is over and it’s safer to go out.
“People now seem to feel safer than before, so I think meals will come back and everything will be fine,” said Alex Saki, owner of Pasha Grill, a Turkish restaurant in Greene Town Center. “COVID is hopefully over, so we’re back to business.”