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West Plains, Mo. restaurant owner shares struggle with rising costs

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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WEST PLAINS, Mo. (KY3) - Owning an independent restaurant, especially in a small town, is difficult even in the best of years. But this past year, with prices increasing on everything from food to rubber gloves, it’s practically impossible for some restaurants to make a profit.

“A lot of people think, oh, you guys are always busy, you gotta be making the money,” said Brian Staack, who owns Bootleggers BBQ in West Plains. “No, we’re scraping by right now.”

Staack has owned Bootleggers for about six years. In that time, minimum wage in Missouri has risen by more than 40 percent. His cost on beef brisket, his best selling menu item, recently tripled. He raised his menu prices to compensate, but says he hasn’t raised them enough.

“We’re taking money out of our pocket to keep the restaurant going,” said Slack. He said in a good year, the restaurant has about a 3% profit margin.

So, if he sold a $1 million worth of food, he’d make $30,000. He and his wife each put in about 100 hours a week at the restaurant. This year, he says he’ll be lucky to make any profit at all.

“A case of gloves goes from $35 to $200, that’s $500 extra a week that you’re spending just to be able to keep gloves in the kitchen,” said Slaack.

Slaack said he recently calculated he will spend about $48,000 this year on gloves, which are required by the health department.

So why does he do it? His answer comes easily.

“Because I like to cook. Plain and simple. I like to cook, and I like seeing people leave happy after eating a meal.”

Some of his customers say they don’t mind paying higher prices.

“I don’t mind seeing local businesses make a profit, so the price increases don’t bother me at all,” said Heather Kamps of West Plains.

Staack says he raised his prices just two weeks ago, and expects to have to raise them again in another two weeks. He just hopes his customers will be understanding and patient.

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