RICHMOND, Texas (KTRK) -- Some restaurant owners believe the last two or three months have been the most challenging they have faced since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Eric Morse, owner of Sauerkraut Grill in Richmond, has been forced to reduce his hours because of a shortage in labor and supplies.
The restaurant that opened in January 2020 is now closed on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
"Right now, we are only open four days a week," Morse said. "That's all we can do with the employee situation we have. It hurts."
To run his restaurant, Morse said he needs eight full-time employees. As it stands, he has three and is about to lose another.
"We are advertising right now for a full-time lead cook position," Morse said. "Twenty-dollars an hour. If we had advertised that on social media and put that on all the job sites two years ago, we would have had a line out of the door, cooks coming from all over town for a schedule like we are offering."
He said they are not getting qualified applicants. In addition, Morse spends three or four days a week visiting restaurant supply stores and wholesale sites trying to find the supplies he needs to make what is on his menu.
"We are having problems getting English cucumbers for our cucumber salad," Morse said. "We usually buy by the case. Sometimes, we have to buy [individually] from local sources. Nothing is available right now."
Morse is also having trouble finding items like gloves. He's able to find other products, but the price has gone up significantly.
"That's because of a lot of the trade between the United States and other countries, but also the availability of workers at those different agriculture facilities to get it to us," said Anna Tauzin with the Texas Restaurant Association. "There's also a shortage of delivery drivers. It feels like everywhere along the supply chain route for the food system, there's something going wrong."
Morse said cooking oil for their French fries went from $17 for a 35-gallon container to $48.
"Plastic silverware, it used to be $7 or $8 for 1,000," Morris said. "Now, it's $17, so it's doubled. All those costs for a small business add up. If I was paying $7, and now I'm paying $17, I'm going through a case a week. That is one of 40 items that's doubled. The only thing we can try to do is use less of those things or consider raising our prices."
Sauerkraut Grill has already raised their prices once during the pandemic, and Morse said he doesn't plan on doing that again.
"I'm working as hard as I can to make sure that no matter what, we don't close the restaurant," the owner said.
Morse has been looking into automating the ordering process at the restaurant so they can stay open with fewer employees, but hopes it doesn't get to that point.
"With all these different variables that go against us, with labor shortages, maybe instead of needing eight full-time employees, if we can figure out how to run our operation with four or three or two full-time employees, then maybe that will be the future of our success," Morse said.