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Pandemic hangover causing problems for Connecticut restaurants

Some are forced to close their doors due to rising costs and difficulty retaining employees.

WALLINGFORD, Conn. — After 20 years of bringing Puerto Rican cuisine to Wallingford, Tata’s Restaurant is saying goodbye. 

"We had a long run here. And it was a good one," said Monica Villanueva, co-owner of the restaurant.

Like so many restaurants, they’ve faced post-pandemic challenges that years later continue to have an impact. 

Rising costs have been a blow to small, family-owned businesses. 

"All the increases, the interest rates and all this other stuff, you know the food costs and all that stuff," said Efrain Nieves, co-owner of Tata’s Restaurant.

Restaurants have also had difficulty finding and keeping employees. 

"That’s been our biggest problem. They’ll come, they’ll work a few weeks and then they don’t want to work anymore so you know we’ve been pretty much holding it down ourselves," Villanueva said.

The issue is reflected in the latest jobs report from the state. 

There were 900 jobs lost in April, and the workforce declined by more than 4,000 people.

"COVID really devastated the workforce and took us a bit to get people back to work, fully reopen as a state, but our workforce still hasn’t recovered our economy hasn’t really fully recovered," said Chris DiPentima, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

He said the problem exists across many industries, but restaurants have been greatly impacted. 

"Restaurants, our Main Streets, continue to really be devastated post-pandemic," said DiPentima. "Restaurants have the job openings, again it’s finding the people to fill these jobs," he said.

The Whey Station(ary) in Middletown is another restaurant to recently close its doors. The same post-COVID struggles have plagued their brick-and-mortar location.

"Worker retention has been a big problem for us; we’ve gone over 30 employees in the last 18 months," said Joshua Moskites, owner of The Whey Station.

They’ll be focusing on their food truck business, which they said is a much more sustainable business model. 

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"The food truck is where I started so I want to go back to that, and I know that that’s where the heart and soul is," Moskites said.

The message from these businesses is to support local. 

"Making bonds with the community is really important for small businesses because they’re really what we have," said Kiara Nieves of Tata's Restaurant.

Gaby Molina is a reporter and anchor at FOX61 News. She can be reached at mmolina@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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