Conflicting reports released on New Mexico restaurant industry rebound

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico’s restaurant industry is still recovering from the pandemic, but it’s still not exactly clear how much damage they’re facing. 

“I think we’re really happy with where we are,” said John Haas, president and co-founder of M’tucci’s Restaurants. 

“I think we’re fairly safe as far as surviving it,” said Matt DiGregory, owner of The Range Café.

Conflicting reports from the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the governor’s office are telling two different stories. 

According to an analysis from the National Restaurant Association, there are roughly 76,000 food service jobs across the state. That’s a 2.7% increase from July 2019. Despite that increase, DiGregory says his restaurants are still struggling to keep positions filled. 

“Last week we hired 20 employees and we lost 22, and that’s been kind of the pattern for the last year,” he said. 

DiGregory says his turnover rate is near 100%, despite raising wages for most employees. He says the workers that do leave often don’t give much of a heads-up. 

“The slightest little thing sets them off, and they just turn and walk out the door. It’– there’s no notice given anymore, it’s just ‘I don’t like you, I’m just gonna leave,’” he said. 

Haas says his restaurants are almost fully-staff, but admits they had to scale back some service while they regained employees. He says the hiring pool has gotten smaller as well. 

“The cannabis industry has taken off a lot and I think that’s taken a portion of those people that might have looked for jobs in the hospitality industry or the restaurant industry,” Haas said. 

Both DiGregory and Haas says rising food prices are forcing all restaurants to make a tough decision. 

“We’ve just had to basically raise prices,” DiGregory said. “You know, because we don’t want to take away from what we’re known for. We’re known for generous portions, we’re known for quality food.” 

“If we feel like, they’re products that just are priced themselves out of their value point, and no longer provide value on the menu, then we’re not afraid to take them out if we have to,” said Haas.  

The New Mexico Restaurant Association recently claimed rising food costs and worker shortages (both spurred by the pandemic) forced nearly 1,100 restaurants to close across New Mexico during the pandemic. The governor’s office disputes those numbers, saying its data shows there are actually more restaurants now than before the pandemic.

DiGregory and Haas agree the pandemic made running restaurants more difficult, but add the business has never been easy. 

“Unfortunately, we’re an industry, we’re, you know, there’s a lot of closures too,” Haas said. 

“This is a very challenging business, it’s extremely difficult to make money, the margins are so incredibly slim,” DiGregory said. 

Both said their restaurants are incredibly busy and are thankful for the customers that supported them during the pandemic and during this recovery phase. 

“I think we’re moving in the right direction” Haas said. “And I think it’s just, you know, we’re gonna need about six months to a year before, we really kind of see where everything is.”