Augusta Economy

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Local restaurant owners do business differently in troubled economy

Restaurant owners try to lure customers, cut costs

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Restaurateurs are still eating more expenses to keep their doors open and their diners coming.

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Toni Peacock (left) and Bessie Carameros (middle) chat with Chuck Baldwin, the owner of the French Market Grille at his restaurant.     Baldwin said the economy has hit his Cajun restaurant hard, with his food costs rising $30,000 in the first two months of 2012.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Toni Peacock (left) and Bessie Carameros (middle) chat with Chuck Baldwin, the owner of the French Market Grille at his restaurant. Baldwin said the economy has hit his Cajun restaurant hard, with his food costs rising $30,000 in the first two months of 2012.
Jenna Martin
Business Reporter
Twitter: @JennaNMartin
E-mail | 706-823-3217

French Market Grille owner Chuck Baldwin said restaurant owners got away with making a few mistakes in the years before the recession. “Now you can’t.”

Baldwin has run his Cajun-inspired restaurant in Surrey Center for nearly three decades. The economy, he said, has required him to re-examine every aspect of how he operates the business.

In the first two months of 2012 alone, food costs went up by $30,000, Baldwin said.

And while Baldwin spent months with a consultant rearranging his menu and slightly raising prices, he said business owners often are forced to absorb the extra expenses.

“Our sales didn’t increase at all last year,” said Baldwin, adding that wife Gail, a co-owner of the restaurant, didn’t receive a paycheck last year for the first time since they’ve been in business. “People that own the business take a pay cut.”

February proved a difficult month for some local restaurant owners who shut down after years in the Augusta market. KFC franchisee Billy Wingate closed his three remaining restaurants in Columbia County, while Al’s Family Restaurant owner Butch Bone announced his North Augusta restaurant was closing after nearly 35 years in business. Both men cited the economy as main factors in their respective closures.

For Jeff Freehof, the owner of Garlic Clove Italian Eatery in Evans, escalated food prices continue to be a thorn in his side as he’s felt them for the past two years. Many companies also have tacked on an added fuel charge because of high gas prices, he said.

“It’s hard,” Freehof said. “Our profit margin has decreased.”

Baldwin’s largest expense is the payroll. Between 30 and 40 percent of every dollar coming into the restaurant is spent on paying one of Baldwin’s 50 employees, most of whom are hourly.

New federal regulations, such as the payroll tax that took effect in 2013, also hasn’t made business easy. French Market employees, across the board, saw a 2 percent increase in taxes out of their paychecks, Baldwin said.

“I was insulted,” he said. “I increased them (the paychecks) out of my pocket.”

At Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar, owner Amy Bailey said she chooses to focus on the positive, finding new ways of reaching customers at both the Augusta and Evans locations.

Sales were up last year at the Augusta restaurant and remained about the same in Evans, though there was a noticeable dip after the 2012 presidential election, she said. Business so far this year has been a little slower than usual, she added.

“You can’t let the economy depress you,” Bailey said, “because it is depressing.”

Diners increasingly want value and authenticity, she said. Making cuisine homemade, for instance, is a way to save on food costs and tastes better to customers, she said.

Bailey said she also isn’t afraid to change the menu and tap into free online venues, like YouTube and Urbanspoon.

“Whoever hustles and gives the customers what they want, that’s who wins,” she said.

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southern2 03/03/13 - 08:21 am
BHO...killing America one

BHO...killing America one resturant at a time!

Shortcomment 03/03/13 - 09:17 am
We need to get our Food vs. environmental priorities


It takes a bushel of corn to produce enough ethanol at 10% per gallon of gas to fill a small 12 gallon car tank. At 68 million cars filling up every week in the USA that is 68 million Bushels of corn that cannot be consumed as food by humans or animals.

Supply and demand then kicks in. It drives up the price of corn up and drives up the price of everything that uses, adds or eats corn.

One other thing. To produce 1 gallon of ethanol, consumes the BTU equivalent energy of 2.3 gallons of gas. Another reason to drill here and drill now.

seenitB4 03/03/13 - 11:18 am
French Market Grille

You are great...drinks are great...fantastic service...stay just like you are & I will give you more business when I am in town...don't mess up those cajun martinis...whatever yado..yummie..♥♥♥

grinder48 03/03/13 - 08:14 pm
The Clown

When are we getting rid of that clown in the White House?

triscuit 03/03/13 - 09:52 pm
In these times, service is

In these times, service is key. Food must be good but bad service runs more restaurants down than increased prices.

David Parker
David Parker 03/05/13 - 10:34 am

“Whoever hustles and gives the customers what they want, that’s who wins,” she said.

There's no secret on how to adjust to the economic-climate for anybody that wants to. Limit consumption and avoid materialistic purchases. I promise, it will loosen up the budget and make for a better operation/home.

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