Container ships anchored off ports in the United States and around the world are making headlines amid shortages caused by supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors .
David VanHorn, a supply chain expert and professor at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, said that while supply chains are not global, they remain complex.
âThey’re kind of like machines with a series of gears,â VanHorn said. âSo if one of the interconnected gears fails for some reason, well, that means everything stops. And yes, you can fix that gear, but it still doesn’t mean that other gear, other gear might not spawn and slow things down.
What this has meant for local restaurateurs like Ashley Lai of Dumpling Haus, 2313 Edwards St Ste. 180 at Sawyer Yards, is a dramatic increase in the prices of products and essential supplies over the past year, especially in recent months.
Lai and her mother, Elaine Lai, like many Asian restaurateurs, are weekly customers of Sun’s Wholesale Club near Chinatown, one of its main suppliers of vegetables and produce that she can only source from there. ‘foreigner. She said recently that she had seen a 100 percent increase in the price of meat. Prices have jumped 20-30% for the dry and paper products she uses, such as take-out boxes and napkins.
The same goes for many other products that the Lais depend on. Ashley said her noodle dispenser had struggled to get her products to Houston and the mushrooms she uses in her restaurant went from $ 1.59 to $ 7.99 a pound overnight.
The logistics piece of the supply chain puzzle, VanHorn said, has also been a factor in recent shortages, especially when it comes to a labor shortage of long-haul truckers who have quit. or retired during the pandemic.
âIt’s all good if it’s produced and so on,â VanHorn said. âBut can you get it to distribution centers? And can you take it to the last mile to the restaurants?
The problem of transportation and distribution can affect many different goods and services, VanHorn said. Lai and William Price Distilling Co. owner Bryan Clary both noted that Topo Chico, a popular sparkling mineral water, has all but disappeared from local grocery stores due to a shortage of glass bottles.
In addition, Clary said he started placing orders for 2022 in May and a shortage of cardboard boxes resulted in a two-month delay that resulted in lost sales and stifled the distillery’s ability to launch new products.
Importing Jamaican rum took eight months instead of the usual month, and importing Polish vodka took six months instead of the usual three weeks, he said.
Even the construction of the distillery patio was delayed for a host of factors, Clary said, mostly due to the increased cost of lumber.
Struggling to meet demand
VanHorn said capacity is one of the main factors contributing to the supply chain issues restaurants face, and many restaurant owners have decided to scale back their capacity in response to the pandemic in 2020.
âBefore the pandemic, (the economy) was operating fairly close to a high capacity level,â he said. âThe capacity can be labor, facilities, incoming materials, etc. “
When an economic recovery began in 2021, a need arose to meet demand that had been dormant during the early stages of the pandemic. VanHorn said restaurants are struggling to hire waiters and cooks.
As meat prices skyrocketed, Greg Gatlin, owner of Gatlin’s BBQ, 3510 Ella Blvd. Build. C Ste. A, said his main concern was the labor shortage as he prepared to open a new restaurant.
âWe’re kind of used to the pain of it all,â Gatlin said. âIt’s becoming a war of attrition, how much more can you take. “
Gatlin said he was frustrated with what he saw as an apparent lack of interest on the part of some people in re-entering the workforce. He said between 50 and 60 people had scheduled job interviews since the start of the pandemic, and only 20% of them showed up.
âI know 100 people who own businesses and they are looking for people to work,â Gatlin said. âThere are a lot of jobs. It’s just a matter of whether you want to go get it or not.
He said Gatlin’s have mostly been spared the shortages or had to make drastic changes because their supplier has been consistent, except for a brief shortage of chicken wings at the start of the pandemic.
âOur supplier has done a good job of getting us to the things we need,â Gatlin said. “And (we) don’t have to change the product or do anything less with the product.”
Gatlin said he had to pass some price increases on to customers, but said he believed customers understood the inflation resulting from any blockages in the supply chain.
Adapt to survive
When scarce products become available, Lai said there are limits to how much each customer can buy, as wholesalers and suppliers try to supply enough to all restaurants that depend on these stores for their livelihood. But restaurateurs like Lai have tried to stock up as much as possible in case the shortages continue.
âIt just makes it difficult,â Lai said, âbecause sometimes it’s not even enough for us to sell and then we have to take multiple trips or go to multiple places.â
In response, Lai raised the prices at Dumpling Haus “a bit” and said she would likely have to do so again to account for the increased costs she incurred.
To adapt to the circumstances, Lai had to make some creative adaptations in the kitchen, tweak recipes to account for missing ingredients, or switch brands of chili powder or bamboo shoots.
âWe used to get this fried tofu from Dallas,â she said. “I think the company either isn’t shipping it here anymore or it’s gone bankrupt.”
Lai said her family tried to absorb most of the inconvenience on their own rather than pass it on to customers, so she’s not sure if too many customers have noticed the price increases or menu changes.
âInstead of just taking something off the menu, we’ll wake up really early and go to three different stores to find the ingredients,â she said.
But Lai is hoping that the reality of the predicament that Dumpling Haus and many other Asian restaurants face can help dispel some stereotypes about the quality of the produce used to cook Chinese cuisine as her business tries to survive in the midst of a pandemic.
âPeople have this perception that Chinese food should be cheap or cheap,â Lai said. âBut really, we use the same ingredients as other restaurants, the same labor costs and everything. So to have good quality handmade dumplings and fresh food requires a certain amount of work and expense.