Rising food prices cause some local restaurants to struggle amid the pandemic

The owner of Andaman Thai, Vien Vong, is pictured with traditional yellow curry.

Unemployment in the U.S. has been a growing concern since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Starkville is not immune to the issue. As a result of high unemployment rates, some fast-food restaurants, like Wendy's and Cookout, have upped their starting hourly rates to $13. Other local businesses, however, still struggle even after offering competitive salaries. In addition, the high levels of unemployment have affected food and supplier prices.

Despite the rising unemployment rates, Starkville's food scene is still expanding, and new restaurants seem to open every week. A new Vietnamese restaurant, T-Yummi, worked through the obstacles of opening a new business during challenging economic times.

The owner of T-Yummi, Duyen Ho, explained that Starkville residents desired a Vietnamese restaurant in the town, but the ongoing pandemic has delayed the opening process.

"People asked me why we haven't expanded to Starkville, especially because there is no bubble tea place. However, everything with the COVID-19 situation has delayed everything. There is a short supply on a lot of things," Ho said.

These issues not only pushed T-Yummi's opening date back, but the owner also decided to do a soft opening of the new restaurant as they worked through problems with food vendors.

"If a product is missing, then we don't want to serve completely yet. We use premium products, and they (food vendors) may have another option for us. But if it doesn't match our quality, we are going to wait until we get the product we want," Ho said.

The Sept. 9 soft opening was successful, though, and the Vietnamese restaurant had a long line of customers that trailed out of the building.

For now, T-Yummi has a small staff, but Ho is hopeful to hire more employees as more people discover the new business and submit job applications.   

"The workers here already are happy. I think they will talk about how they enjoy working, so more people will come," Ho said. 

T-Yummi will begin their regular hours and serve their full menu on Sept. 17.

Another local Starkville restaurant, Andaman Thai Cuisine, is experiencing product supply issues because of rising food prices in the U.S.

Vien Vong, the owner of Andaman Thai Cuisine, explained how the supply chain issues have affected his business.

"The price (from food vendors) has been up a lot. It is hard to maintain inflation here. All the small businesses are being affected price-wise with chicken and beef and things like that," Vong said.  

Vong said specialty meats, among other foods, are tough to keep in stock.

"Duck meat has been out for a while, or they (the food vendors) discontinued it. They don't have anyone in the factory, so they have to close the factory down," Vong said. 

Unlike some restaurants, Andaman Thai Cuisine has not struggled with staffing issues, according to Vong.

While some restaurants are experiencing negative effects from supply chain issues and understaffing, other small businesses are thriving. For example, Strange Brew Coffeehouse, a local coffee shop chain, has expanded in recent years and continues to grow its business.

One of Strange Brew's owners, Katelyn Reed, explained how the flourishing coffee shop has handled food supply chain issues.

"We have seen both (supply chain issues and rise in prices) but have been creatively working around hurdles to try to keep our products in stock for our customer," Reed said. 

Due to these issues with certain food products, Strange Brew's owners have reevaluated how and when they order products. Their strategy has allowed for only a few products to be out of stock at any given time at the coffee shop. 

"We have tried to be proactive and order ahead when needed and when stock is available. We have sourced new products and new vendors when necessary," Reed said. 

Like Andaman Thai Cuisine, Strange Brew has not faced any understaffing issues. 

"We have not experienced understaffing. I credit that to our excellent work environment, our hardworking staff and our overall culture of truly valuing our employees," Reed said.

As the pandemic begins to level out, it might be easier for local restaurants and small businesses to buy from supply vendors and keep necessities in stock.

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