Restaurant owner/operator Vance Hall gazes out the front window from the counter at Druff’s, a restaurant on Park Central East in downtown Springfield. (Photo by Rance Burger)

This story is part of an in-depth article by Rance Burger on inflation and wages in Springfield, Mo.

“Inflation” and “wage demand” are two buzzwords circling downtown Springfield, but if you want to learn more about what they mean in a real sense, ask a restaurateur about eggs and avocados. 

Restaurant owner Vance Hall spoke about these food items and more on a Monday morning at Druff’s at the corner of Park Central East and Jefferson Avenue. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, but Hall was there restocking, resupplying and recovering from Sunday, which is typically the busiest day of the week at Druff’s.

Every egg that gets cracked and cooked at Druff’s is more expensive today than it would have been in 2020. Whether it’s the egg or the meat from the chicken, inflation coupled with an outbreak of avian influenza means it all costs more.

“There’s a big bird flu, which is causing the same thing for chicken,” Hall said. “Eggs and chicken are outrageous.”

Some items have risen to a point where they are going off the menu, at least temporarily.

“Avocados are getting there; that’s the thing I didn’t order this week because they’re too expensive,” Hall said.

Shopping around for better prices

At a restaurant where grilled cheese sandwiches are a staple, cheese and bread are the two food items ordered in mass quantities from a restaurant supplier. Hall said the market conditions and inflation in 2022 cause him to spend more time sourcing his other menu ingredients and looking for places to save.

“It’s harder to get stuff, the stuff I can get is more expensive,” Hall said. “Generally, I would get everything from one supplier, and now I’m buying a lot of stuff retail because it’s cheaper.”

Shopping around takes time, and in many cases, it still takes more money.

“It’s taking more time, it’s costing more. Everybody’s food cost is more expensive. I’ve had to raise prices, which is the reality that exists,” Hall said. “My costs are not the same, and some of that is going to happen over time, period, and some of that is a result of what is going on.”

Prior to inflation rising in 2022, Hall said the prices of some restaurant goods went up and stayed high in 2020. Hall gave examples of to-go food containers and latex gloves. Food containers are more in demand as restaurant patrons turned to ordering takeout instead of dining in, and maintained the habit throughout the pandemic.

Climbing rent impacting his restaurant workers

Hall said one economic pressure he keeps hearing about on his employees is the cost of rent.

An analysis by the Washington Post found that the average cost of rent in Greene County is $901 per month, and that rent has gone up 9.3 percent in Greene County since 2019.

“The thing I hear about is what it costs to rent something right now, it’s pretty gnarly,” Hall said.

Rent rates have been climbing steadily in recent years, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and tightening the demand for housing in the Springfield metro area. Some of the biggest spikes in rent are for 2- and 3-bedroom units, which have risen 3 and 9 percent, respectively, from the spring of 2021 to the spring of 2022. That’s according to data from Zumper, the largest privately held rental platform in North America. 

2020 U.S. Census data shows that about 42 percent of Springfield residents own their homes, while the remaining 58 percent are renters.

Changing hiring practices

The economic pressure has influenced Hall’s hiring practices since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Hall said he raised the starting wage at Druff’s and gave raises to existing employees in the summer of 2021.

For the past two years, Hall said business has picked up at Druff’s, and revenue is still good enough to compensate for the higher wages. Hall said he puts “a real focus on having people with good attitudes in here and trying to have a positive workplace.”

Because it’s a relatively small restaurant with an open concept, every employee at Druff’s has interactions with customers. Not even experienced restaurant cooks are used to that. As much as he tries to advertise a positive environment when he hires, Hall also has to make the wages public from the outset.

“I think it’s a pretty fun place to work, but getting people to come for an interview, you have to explicitly state how much you’re paying,” Hall said. “It’s allowed a more quality candidate to show up, I think.”

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger