Augusta area restaurants make cuts, monitor bottom line to survive

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Increases in food and fuel prices have dished out some difficult times for local restaurant owners.

Ed Presnell and Jennifer Franks have lunch at Soy Noodle House in Augusta.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Ed Presnell and Jennifer Franks have lunch at Soy Noodle House in Augusta.

Teo Estrada, a co-owner of nine Mi Rancho Mexican restaurants, said the stagnant economy is dealing his businesses a tough blow.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better quickly. We’re struggling,” Estrada said. “We’re catching hell with the bills. We’re not making money like the way we used to, just basically paying the bills. Everything has gone up, and we can’t really go up (in prices) because of the people ... no jobs. It’s bad.”

Prices of meat, vegetables and other items have increased, along with fuel costs. Estrada checks prices carefully to get the best deal, he said.

“We choose to not raise the prices, but eventually we’re going to have to,” Estrada said.

He said he plans to keep all his restaurants open, but he has reduced his staff by two to three workers per restaurant in response to the decrease in sales.

The economy has affected business at 1102 Bar & Grill, Blue Sky Kitchen and Soy Noodle House on Broad Street, but the restaurants are still surviving, owner Sae Shin said.

“Overall, sales have dropped a little bit,” Shin said. “I had to tighten up everything as far as labor costs. My crew understands, but we had to cut back a little bit here and there. We have loyal customers that keep coming, and I haven’t raised the price on the menu even though food costs have gone up.

“Consumers realize when something jumps up a dollar per menu price. We’re trying to hang in there for this year, but so far we’ve managed. My staff works extra hard for the time that they’re here. That helps out a lot.”

Shin has cut back on entertainment acts. He has adjusted his staffing numbers to match the number of restaurant patrons.

In spite of tough times, Shin has doubled the size of Soy Noodle House. He expanded into the building space next door, adding a full bar and more tables for dining. Also, he took over Blue Sky Kitchen from another restaurant owner in June and extended its hours to include dinner.

Some local restaurant owners are finding success in the tough economy, though. Business is up by 15 percent over last year at French Market Grille in Surrey Center, owner Chuck Baldwin said.

“In general, we’ve had a surprisingly strong summer,” Baldwin said. “The best we’ve had in four or five years. I’ve heard a lot of people just anecdotally say that it’s been kind of grim for them. I kind of pinch myself every day and just hope that it keeps going.”

He attributes success to in-store promotions and Internet marketing. He also believes that good service and hospitality have played a role.

“I’ve got a really, really competent staff person focused on IT (information technology). She just seems to do the right thing at the right time when it comes to the Web site,” Baldwin said.

It’s not easy to watch the bottom line constantly. At the beginning of the year, food prices escalated so quickly that he “could barely keep track of it”

“Since the crash of 2007, when the economy went in the tank, until now, it’s taken us over three years to shift gears and be more frugal,” Baldwin said. “That means taking every little factor of doing business, like insurance and linen service ... Rather than trying to cut corners and cut quality, it’s just making sure you’re not wasting money. Getting the best deal possible.

“It’s a lot easier to gear up and get ready for Masters than to watch your pennies every day, like this economy dictates.”

TakoSushi, which has five restaurants in Augusta, Aiken, Greenville, S.C. and Columbia is also faring well, said owner Kevin Goldsmith.

Business has been up since Goldsmith opened the first restaurant seven years ago, and each one does better each year, he said.

“We’re doing great. We have awesome business in all the stores every year. We’ve been very blessed,” Goldsmith said. “We’re very consistent. In this economy, I think the pricing is very good. I think a lot of the higher end restaurants with the $40- to $70-a-head tabs have been struggling just because people aren’t spending quite as much. People are always going to go out to eat. They’re just going to go out maybe a little less and go to places that cost a little less.”

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whiteflighttocc1
20
Points
whiteflighttocc1 08/24/11 - 09:08 am
0
0
Mi Rancho is so full of it.
Unpublished

Mi Rancho is so full of it. If they are not doing well then why is MI Rancho opening up two NEW Locations now. One at Riverwood and one in Grovetown. And they are closing their exisitng location on Washington Road in evans because they have a for sale sign on it.

LaTina Emerson
0
Points
LaTina Emerson 08/24/11 - 09:32 am
0
0
During my interview, the

During my interview, the owner mentioned that he was relocating two of his existing restaurants to new locations. After the moves have been completed, there will still be nine Mi Rancho restaurants.

unbiased_propaganda
165
Points
unbiased_propaganda 08/24/11 - 10:43 am
0
0
whiteflight - guess you're

whiteflight - guess you're the one 'full of it.' you should probably make sure you know the situation before you start throwing out accusations.

LemonJello
19
Points
LemonJello 08/24/11 - 10:53 am
0
0
Two are Mi Ranchos are

Two are Mi Ranchos are opening and two are closing. Basically its two stores that don't get enough traffic moving to better locations.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 08/24/11 - 03:40 pm
0
0
Don't you think that Augusta

Don't you think that Augusta has reached the Mexican restaurant saturation point?

raul
5031
Points
raul 08/24/11 - 09:44 pm
0
0
@Emerydan. I agree. I only

@Emerydan. I agree. I only eat Mexican food 2-3 times a year. Maybe that's just me.

IamNewToComputers
0
Points
IamNewToComputers 08/26/11 - 07:31 pm
0
0
Ed, are you pigging out again

Ed, are you pigging out again :)

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