- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Z Burger restaurant owner Peter Tabibian applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan during the height of the pandemic to help keep his eateries in Tenleytown, Dupont Circle and Greenbelt afloat.

Now, his handcrafted burger chain is grappling with inflation-driven surges in the cost of meat, rent and electricity, he says.

“I didn’t raise my prices for 2½ years, but recently I had to go up a little bit because it got to be too much,” said Mr. Tabibian, who immigrated from Iran. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Z Burger is one of several D.C.-area restaurants that barely survived the pandemic thanks to stimulus checks but are struggling to stay open as customers trickle back.

French fries are a particular challenge for restaurateurs like Mr. Tabibian. He is now paying $70 for a 50-pound case of Idaho potatoes, up from $30 before the pandemic. And the cost of peanut oil for the fryers has risen from $35 per 35-pound jug to $67.

What’s more, restaurant owners have incurred higher staff costs: The D.C. minimum wage is $16.10, higher than most of the nation.

“It’s very hard to find employees. Everyone is short and paying more,” Mr. Tabibian said.

Lunchtime had been prime time for downtown restaurants before the pandemic, but it has remained slow as remote work keeps workers (potential diners) out of the city.

Shelley S. Hymes, who promotes dining out on her podcast “LUNCH with Shelley,” says the busiest days at restaurants depend on which days employers make workers go to the office.

“There are restaurants that still haven’t reopened for lunch and there still seems to be a staffing shortage in others,” said Ms. Hymes, founder and president of the public relations firm Angel Enterprises. “But overall, I’ve seen the lunch period getting busier, and I’m optimistic that it will continue.”

However, the post-pandemic challenges haven’t scared off new restaurants.

On Sept. 1, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) and John Falcicchio, D.C. deputy mayor for planning and development, presided over a ribbon-cutting for the grand opening of Taffer’s Tavern at 700 Sixth St. NW.

Founded by Paramount Network’s “Bar Rescue” star Jon Taffer, the pub-style eatery hopes to coax Washingtonians out of their homes by removing “all possible biological and other contaminants,” according to a press release.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misreported the date of the tavern’s grand opening and its attendees.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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