“It’s not just one thing,” said Brendan O’Connor, the owner of Berwyn’s Big Guys sausage stand, just before checking with a member of staff to see if another employee had snuck in. present. “If it was, we would overcome this.”
On Friday — after two years of adversity related to the coronavirus pandemic — O’Connor announced he was halting counter service at the beloved West Suburb restaurant at 7021 Roosevelt Rd., moving to dine-in on Sept. 26 .
The only things that have allowed his home-style take-out restaurant to survive this long?
“Hopeless optimism” and a “solid staff,” O’Connor said.
But his business has faced insurmountable overhead due to factors that cannot be blamed on COVID-19.
“We know corporate greed is a huge factor in this,” O’Connor said. “On April 21, we started seeing these crazy price increases beyond the supply chain issues we saw during COVID. At some point you realize it’s not just about inflation or the supply chain. Someone gets rich with this plastic I need.
The cost of plastic cups used for cheese dip has skyrocketed, and prices for chicken and potatoes have increased almost tenfold, according to O’Connor, who started making his own mayonnaise when prices soared for that.
These increases have been felt on the consumer side, with “out-of-home” food prices rising nearly 10% over the past year, according to the US Department of Labor. Meat and poultry prices rose at a similar pace, federal officials said, although dairy and related products climbed more than 16%.
The pandemic has also brought new ways for restaurants to survive, but these have also created new threats. O’Connor said he ditched third-party ordering apps like GrubHub and UberEats because they inflated his prices by up to 30% per order and then added processing fees.
Adding to the cost, O’Connor said he would spend hours trying to get refunds for orders that weren’t picked up – an often unsuccessful attempt.
“Consumers aren’t winning, restaurants aren’t winning, but DoorDash is doing well,” O’Connor said.
After his longtime boss left a few months ago, O’Connor said he had problems keeping a reliable staff. He said he raised wages again last year to compete with corporate chains that he says can offer equal or better pay for less work.
“I don’t know how to offer that salary and get people to buy my food,” he said.
Antonio Caldarone, 41, stopped to say goodbye to the stand on Saturday with his 11-year-old daughter Marina on their way to their football match.
Big Guys has “played a big part of a lot of people’s lives,” the 15-year-old Oak Park resident said. “Chains have their place, but these local places bring character to the community.”
O’Connor said he wanted to collaborate with other companies to utilize counter space, in addition to monthly pop-ups.
And he’s excited to return to what started his journey in the food business nearly two decades ago.
“I love catering,” O’Connor said. “It’s something I can have a lot more control over. Running to the counter is like a jump ball every day.