From banana leaves to boba pearls, how high food costs are dealing another blow to restaurants battered by the pandemic

When Sanjeev Yogeswaran’s two restaurants, The Office Pub and Rusi, closed in the city center early in the pandemic, it reopened in Whitby, where the rent is lower and works closer to home.

Still, Yogeswaran says he hasn’t paid for himself since opening his Sri Lankan take-out place, CuciniXpress, two months ago. Restaurant owners around the world are trying to keep up with rental, insurance and labor costs, without being able to operate at full capacity.

And now, in addition to everything else, professional and home cooks have to deal with the rising costs of ingredients, especially those coming from abroad.

“Compared to last year, prices have risen dramatically,” says Yogeswaran. “Some of the costs have gone up maybe 40 or 100 percent. I think last year, before the pandemic, I was paying $ 24, $ 25 for oil. The last price I paid was $ 41.59 for 16 liters. “

He adds that Sri Lankan samba rice has risen $ 25 for a 50-pound bag to $ 65, and basmati rice has risen $ 5 in the last two weeks alone. Lamb went up from $ 13 per kilogram a year ago to $ 17 and chicken legs have almost doubled. jumping from $ 4 per kilogram to $ 7.75.

The banana leaves for the lamprais that Yogeswaran makes on weekends used to cost about a dollar for a pack of 10, but now they are closer to $ 3. The cost of take-out containers has also risen: he estimates that a 150-pack of black plastic containers that would normally cost $ 60 now costs $ 100.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor specializing in food distribution at Dalhousie University, has been tracking food costs during the pandemic. He says restaurants that rely on imported ingredients, particularly those that focus on global cuisines, are feeling the biggest rush.

Throughout the pandemic, there have been reports of various overseas food shortages having trouble reaching North American restaurants, such as boba pearls and noodles.

Sanjeev Yogeswaran, owner of CuciniXpress, says the cost of a large bag of basmati rice has risen by $ 5 in the last two weeks, while Sri Lankan samba rice has risen $ 25.

“These independent operators are innovative and introduce flavors and tastes to many Canadians. To do that, you have to import ingredients from around the world that are now three or four times more expensive than 12 months ago, ”Charlebois said, adding that the cost of canola oil, potatoes and spices in particular has gone up more. What others. .

Charlebois said the world economy is still “out of sync” as shipping companies try to meet the surge around the world. demand for imported goods. Outbreaks and job closures in the workplace they also continue around the world, further disrupting supply chains.

“Unions are putting pressure on companies to pay and now more people are recognizing their work. Now they are more respected and valued, so at some point someone has to pay for that. These people were underpaid for a while and companies will have to readjust. “

Chef Nuit Regular, who is behind Toronto’s Pai, Kiin and Sukothai Thai restaurants, said the price of a packet of rice noodles to make her pad Thai has doubled. She cites higher freight costs (one of her suppliers told her it is uploaded five times), combined with fewer workers in food manufacturing and shipping facilities struggling to keep up with demand.

Regular says they have yet to raise menu prices and have tried to balance costs in other ways since the pandemic began. “Most people still don’t have a suitable job and raising prices makes us nervous,” he said.

To absorb higher costs, instead of grabbing vegetables or herbs by the handful, products are now weighed for each dish to avoid using more than is needed. He also had local farmers grow holy basil for him in the summer, so you don’t need to import the herb that is essential for your kitchen (you’re looking for vertical farms for the winter). You’re also figuring out how to ship ingredients using less packaging that adds to the weight of the shipment.

At the Cheese Boutique in Toronto’s west end, which sells cheeses from around the world, owner Afrim Pristine says the price of shipping has tripled or quadrupled in the last year, and he doesn’t expect costs to drop anytime soon.

“Everything, any product that goes from A to B (has gone up),” he says. “It’s olive oil, cheese, meat … it doesn’t matter if you sell cars or food, if something is transported, those costs increase.”


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