Ahmed Abdulkadir used to stock his restaurant without worrying about his shopping list, but now a simple stop at the store is painful.
Prices for staples, from rice to cooking oil, have skyrocketed, leaving the restaurateur standing in the grocery aisle wondering, “OK, do I need this?”
“It hurts,” he said Wednesday morning, the snap and clang of prep work echoing behind him at Restaurant Safia, the restaurant his family runs on Saint-Laurent Boulevard.
“It literally hurts to go to the store knowing you’re spending $1,500 a day. It hurts and it’s real.”
Abdulkadir is far from alone. Ottawa restaurant owners said rising food prices are forcing them to tighten their belts, cut portion sizes and consider whether to pass on a percentage of the increase to customers.
Statistics Canada said last month that Canadians paid 9.7% more for food in April 2022 compared to the same month last year.
Staples like fresh fruit jumped 10%, while pasta prices rose almost 20%.
Statistics Canada highlighted the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as rising fuel prices and bad weather in some growing regions.
“The price? It’s killing us now, especially Thai food and anything from overseas,” said Bounnom Souphilavong, who runs the Thai Flame restaurant in Bells Corners with his wife and sister.
A case of coconut milk was $38. Now it’s $75, he said. Shrimp used to be $28 a pack. Now it’s $41.
They’ve seen a similar increase in the cost of cooking oil, from $20 for a 16-litre jug to $40 now, according to Souphilavong.
His family is considering how best to meet the challenge. Souphilavong said he considered raising prices or reducing the amount of food, but was quick to say serving less for more would make them feel bad.
Reduced lobster poutine
At Petit Bill’s Bistro in Ottawa’s Wellington West neighborhood, the much-loved lobster poutine has been cut back.
Part is now about 60% of its previous size, co-owner Terry Fitzpatrick said. The mixture of fries, mascarpone sauce and shellfish is now an appetizer and no longer a main course.
Fitzpatrick estimated he had recently paid between 15 and 20 percent more for food, calling it “a big chunk of change.”
“I go around town to find the best possible price for butter,” he said, adding that the restaurant turned to Costco because of its consistent prices. “Two years ago, I just ordered it.”
Customers have been “kind and generous,” Fitzpatrick said. But given how things are going, he predicts the menus might look different in the near future.
“I think you’re going to see restaurants…not putting prices on because everything will be market price.”
Bag of onions used to be $15, now $45
Abdulkadir took the plunge and started raising prices slightly at Safia Restaurant in an effort to keep up with costs. Cutting ingredients and losing quality just wasn’t an option, he said.
They also look as far away as Montreal and Toronto to find more affordable supplies.
Customers have been understanding so far, but some of the regulars they used to see three times a month now only stop once a month, he said.
Being a family restaurant means they can rely on each other and reduce labor costs.
Yet they can’t keep changing their prices, and when a bag of onions that used to cost $15 now costs around $45, Abdulkadir is looking for a permanent solution.
“We have to find ways to make a profit because we are not [a] charity,” he said, adding that the provincial and federal governments should do something to support small businesses.
“It will hurt everyone if you don’t find a lasting solution to fight inflation.”
ottawa morning11:19Restaurants struggled first with COVID, now with rising food costs.