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Even popular restaurants around DC are still struggling

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Local restaurants that barely got by at the height of the pandemic are now facing even bigger struggles. Many say they may not make it, and even the really popular restaurants are struggling.

Armand’s Pizza was just voted by WTOP listeners as best pie in the region, and owner Chris Sappe says he and other restaurant owners are facing new problems such as inflation, high food costs and just fewer people choosing to go out to eat.

“We have to keep raising our prices,” he said. “We try to keep them at a comfortable level, but at some point it’s going to get tough, and I don’t know how we’re going to survive.”

Ramesh Zadeh, the owner of Sienna’s in Rockville, says it’s hard to make ends meet because she’s having to pay employees more to keep them, and her costs are way up.

“The supplies that we are buying — it is more than twice as before,” she said, adding that another big issue is labor costs. She’s paying people more than before the pandemic, she said, just to keep them.

According to May data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, even though some restaurant workers are making more, the average hourly pay of America’s 11.6 million food service workers, including managers, is $18.48. They generally work nearly 26 hours a week.

It also noted that in January, the restaurant industry’s year-over-year quit rate jumped from 4.8% to 6.9%, a larger increase than in any other job sector.

The food service industry is recovering overall, but numbers show there is still a way to go, said D.C.’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, John Falcicchio.

One way to gauge where things are is through industry jobs in the District. In 2019, D.C. had about 54,000 food service jobs, according to Falcicchio. Those numbers were cut in half when restaurants were forced to close dining rooms during the height of the pandemic.

Today, while up, those numbers remain about 15,000 jobs shy of pre-pandemic levels.