Locals businesses facing new challenges


By Lauren Kolodziej, Staff Writer

We as a world have hit the two-year mark since the start of the coronavirus pandemic,
and while life is starting to get back to normal, prices are just the opposite. Inflation continues to rise, reaching historical records in all realms, hitting businesses everywhere, but hitting the restaurant industry even harder. More specifically, our local businesses.

Here in Crystal Lake, we have seen the unfortunate end of many local businesses since the pandemic started, and although it seems to be coming to an end, recent inflation has made it no easier for them to get back on their feet. In the past couple of years, coronavirus first led to a drastic decrease in demand for many products, as there was hardly anyone going out or working. However, as we have started kicking things back into gear with our economy opening back up, demand is higher than ever and supply is extremely low.

Tony’s Cafe in Crystal Lake is a popular, go-to restaurant in the area, serving breakfast
and lunch until 2 p.m. everyday.  John Zimka, the owner of Tony’s Cafe, said they have been feeling the harsh effects of inflation since the reopening of the economy. They had managed to make it through the pandemic itself with lots of take-out orders, but nonetheless, it has been difficult since.

“It has been pretty tough because we were trying to avoid raising prices, but recently we had to raise
them up,” Zimka said. “Even after we did that, it’s still not enough because the prices just keep on going up and up. It’s like a race to keep up with it.”

The rising struggle that restaurants are facing is clear through recent data from the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the department, the food-at-home
(grocery store or supermarket food purchases) consumer price index increased 1.2 percent from December 2021 to January 2022 and was 7.4 percent higher than January 2021. These increases have been particularly in meat.

Zimka said one of their popular items, skirt steak, was originally $9 a pound, but is now $18 a pound. Bacon prices have also drastically risen, which is obviously
a necessity at a breakfast joint. Zimka says that he is hoping that these supply issues are fixed
soon, but is worried about the ongoing cost issue.

“It could take months to resolve, and I am anticipating that my staff and I are going to have a long summer ahead of us as the inflation continues to rise, ” he said.

Zimka says Tony’s Café is lucky to have so many regular customers that have made a great effort to support the restaurant. However, he said that since January, business has been slower than usual for this time of year.

“Typically we see it slower after the holidays, just like any restaurant,” he said. “But not like this year. It’s all a source of the high prices everywhere and people not wanting to spend that extra money to go out to eat.”

Another benefit to Tony’s Cafe is the style of their restaurant. Zimka said they are lucky enough to be a restaurant that caters to so many regulars as they are more of a
quick stop-in for food, compared to other restaurants that serve lunch and dinner. That is much more expensive and time consuming for the customer, compared to having a quick breakfast.

The rise in inflation doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, even if supply
does catch up. According to Forbes magazine: “The high rate of inflation in February was driven by big gains in food, gasoline, and shelter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), putting further pressure on the bottom lines of average Americans.”

Forbes also says consumer confidence is at an all-time low, practically fueling less local economic participation in towns like Crystal Lake. Inflation’s effects are harsh on local businesses, and the best thing to do as their neighbors is offer what we can to our local businesses specifically. They need love more than ever right now.