Belt-tightening, ‘tweaking’ keep eateries afloat

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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A slowing economy and rising prices have local restaurants feeling squeezed but coping. At The Big Salad in Downtown Auburn, owner Danielle Nelson said she’s seen costs go up about 40 percent over the last 12 months. “But we’ve been able to kind of tweak things, so we’ve only had to raise a couple of our prices,” she said this week. “We’ve raised (prices on) a couple of salads and sandwiches.” And she’s seeing the impact for customers, too. “With the higher cost to purchase anything, people have cut back on spending in general, which has trickled down to us,” she said. “So although we’ve found a way to survive, we’re seeing fewer customers because consumers are having to pay more everywhere else they go.” The eatery, named after “The Big Salad” Seinfeld TV episode, has been open for two years and nine months. These days, Nelson is keeping an ever-sharper eye on ingredients. “We did cut some things from the menu at the first of the year because the price we would have had to charge for them, we couldn’t justify,” she said. At Newcastle Produce, owner Jan Thompson has been experiencing the effects of rising prices for quite awhile. “Especially during the winter, it was slower than I’d like to have it be,” she said. “Our sales are down a little every week compared to last year. We’ve seen a lot of increase in prices of products we get and the shipping has been horrendous.” The shop is known for showcasing local agriculture. “Shipping costs have gone up enough to where I’m really being vigilant in seeking out local products,” Thompson said. “We’ve always been as much local as we can, but the farther the distance it comes from, the more it costs, for sure.” Shipping, coupled with increasing manufacturing costs, have caused Thompson to drop a few things, although customers can still find their favorite items, because she has substituted similar products. “We’ve raised prices on a few things, just in response to the cost of a few ingredients,” she said. At Lou LaBonte’s restaurant in Bowman, owner Judi LaBonte is weathering the storm. “I think just overall, in general, things are rough,” she said. “Things are up and business is down. We haven’t really raised prices. We’re trying to maintain what we’ve had for the last year.” In the 61 years the restaurant has been in business, the LaBonte family has seen good times and bad. “I’d say this parallels with a couple of other bad times,” LaBonte said. “We forget when things start running smoothly in our lives. We get too confident and that’s not a good rule of thumb in any business.” Pasquale T’s restaurant, which recently relocated to Downtown Auburn from its longtime Highway 49 location, is feeling the impact, owner Kimberley Worley said. “We’ve had several increases (in price) of our products like flour, cheese and dairy, which are kind of fundamental for Italian cooking,” she said. Despite a thinning bottom line, Worley hasn’t raised prices. “The things we’ve noticed are fewer customers,” she said. “Customers who do come in have a smaller ticket price, so they’re cutting down on things like salads and desserts. We notice those things.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at or comment at