Inflation is eating away at these Windsor food businesses. Here’s how mayoral candidates plan to help

Canola oil and gas are some of the key ingredients fueling Chris Page’s food truck business in Windsor, Ont.

But inflation has caused the price of both products to skyrocket over the last year.

When Page first started his business in 2021, he said he could buy 16 liters of canola oil for about $19. Now, he’s paying $52.50 for the same amount. As a result, Page has raised his menu prices by about 15 to 20 per cent and absorbed the rest of the cost.

“Hopefully everything’s going to turn around and come back to normal, whatever that is,” said Page, owner of The Frying Saucer, which is known for its poutine.

“I’ve locked the prices in on my menu [now] and I don’t believe getting in there with a marker and changing it every day. If [more inflation] impacts me, that’s basically the road I’ve chosen.”

Page says he parks The Frying Saucer in a parking lot as there are limited spaces he can be within the City of Windsor. He says he’d like the city to look at expanding where he can park and sell food. (Jennifer LaGrassa/CBC)

According to new data released by Statistics Canada Wednesday, food purchased at stores cost 11.4 per cent more in September compared to the same time last year. That’s the fastest pace of increase in grocery bills since August 1981. The inflation rate in Canada hit a 40-year high this year — peaking at 8.1 per cent in June.

Food inflation is almost twice as much as the overall inflation rate, which dropped to 6.9 per cent in September from 7 per cent the month before. Food inflation has now been higher than the overall rate for 10 months in a row.

Zule Ankamah, owner of chef of Zule Eats in Windsor, said she hasn’t raised her menu prices as she worries about losing customers.

But if costs continue to stay high or rise with ingredients like oil, flour and butter, she said she’ll have to increase prices next year.

“We are struggling because we can’t raise our prices every week or two, but yet you go out to get your grocery and it goes up every other week you go and prices have changed. We can’t keep up with it,” said Ankamah.

“Some how we have to try and survive by keeping prices the same.”

Both Ankamah and Page said they would like to hire more workers as they need the help, but can’t afford the extra costs right now.

Businesses facing multiple challenges: Chamber

Both business owners also said they’d like to see the city do more to help local businesses such as reduce business licensing fees and offer more grants and subsidies.

For Page, he said he’d like to see the city adjust its bylaws for mobile food vendors, so that they can be stationed throughout the city. At this time, Page said food trucks are severely restricted and that his truck can only be parked in commercial parking lots that are outside of a business district.

Man sitting in office. Rakesh Naidu is the President and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. He says the city can waive license fees, increase the speed at which it processes permits, keep taxes at a minimum and also help by providing hiring subsidies. (Jennifer LaGrassa/CBC)

Rakesh Naidu, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, told CBC News that local businesses are facing a number of challenges, all while they continue to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 lockdowns.

In particular, he said businesses are facing labor shortages, increased costs of borrowing, a higher minimum wage, rising fuel and energy costs.

“Thesis [costs] are not going away any time soon so it’s quite a bit of a challenging situation for businesses,” he said.

Naidu said some ways the City of Windsor can help include reducing processing times for business permits, reducing the tax rate for small businesses and implementing a hiring subsidy.

Here’s how the mayoral candidates say they will help

During COVID-19, the City of Windsor released an action plan to support small businesses, which included waiving business license and patio fees. But those fees have since been reinstated.

The City of Windsor works in partnership with the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre, which offers consultations, financial support, business planning and workshops for local businesses.

CBC News asked each mayoral candidate in an email how they would help small businesses during these inflationary times.

A spokesperson for Chris Holt’s campaign said in an email that Holt plans to hire a Business Improvement Association (BIA) coordinator to work in the city’s Economic Development Department, create a BIA Support Program, and look to waive patio fees as was done during the pandemic .

Many mayoral candidates say they would waive, suspend or lower business license fees as a way to help local, small businesses. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Matthew Giancola said he will work to reduce heavy taxation and high energy costs.

Aaron Day said he plans to waive sidewalk and patio fees, offer rent relief packages and possibly reduce business property taxes for a period of time. He said he will also plan more events in the downtown core and make it a safe environment to bring more customers to businesses.

Louis Vaupotic said he would ask the province to make energy efficiency videos that will go on the city’s website, so businesses can learn about how to save on energy costs. He added that if a business is facing bankruptcy, the licensing fees could possibly be waived for a year.

He also said he would look at offering free parking and closing roads to encourage people to explore business areas.

Benjamin Danyluk said he would meet with business owners to discuss what would be most helpful. He said he would create a radio show or Youtube page that would have business owners on as guests to see ways the city can be improved.

A spokesperson for Drew Dilkens’ campaign said Dilkens aims to keep property taxes “as low as possible.” They also said he will look to eliminate sidewalk and parklet fees.

Additionally, the spokesperson said Dilkens has worked with the Ontario Government’s Small Business Ministry and local agencies, like the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre, to “help increase the programs offered to small businesses with training grants of up to $5,000.”

Many of the candidates — Holt, Danyluk, Dilkens, Day — said their plans include lowering, temporarily suspending or eliminating business license fees for a period of time.

Ernie Lamont did not respond to a request for comment.

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