Feoz Pizza in Chatham. November 5, 2018. (Photo by Greg Higgins).

Small business owners report ‘the worst year ever’

It hasn’t been a full year since the province’s minimum wage went up to $14 per hour, but a couple of local small business owners in the food industry say it’s a definitely a contributing factor in their ongoing struggles to stay afloat.

The owner of Pizza Tonite in Chatham, Naser Berisha, is calling this year a “nightmare” and “the worst year ever” for small businesses.

He made those statements shortly after Feo’z Pizza in Chatham closed its doors for good October 27. Berisha said Feo’z owner Feovor Pashkob, had contacted him ahead of closing with news that the business was not doing well. The two agreed to transfer some of the employees from Feo’z to Pizza Tonite, along with some of its favourite recipes.

“Feo’z was our competition but he was a very smart business owner, he a had a very good clientele, he made very good pizzas, he did the best he could,” said Berisha. “He offered to team up … and I was very pleased.”

Pashkob told BlackburnNews.com that there were a few reasons as to why he closed his business — all related to the costs of operating, but the more apparent hit came from the minimum wage increase that came into effect at the beginning of 2018, under the former Liberal government.

Berisha said his business is one of many that are going through similar struggles in staying afloat. He listed many of the same factors Pashkob did: the minimum wage hike, the increase to food costs and other bills associated with running a business.

“We are really struggling. Even though Pizza Tonite is a very well established business … this is a challenging year for us, too,” said Berisha. “This has been the worst year ever for us to run a business.”

The minimum wage was scheduled to increase again in 2019, however, the Ford government announced a halt to those plans in September. Still, Berisha does not have high hopes of seeing an immediate change in the economic climate that small businesses face.

“I’ve been involved in business for almost 30 years in Canada, this is a nightmare year to run a small business,” said Berisha. “What I’m predicting is that in the next few years we’re going to have more and more small businesses going down and basically our town is going to be filled with [franchise companies].”

Rosemarie Montgomery, a business consultant for the Chatham-Kent Small Business Centre, said the minimum wage increase is a problem for some small businesses but is something manageable.

“I’ve worked with several different businesses that have been affected by it, to look at ways to adjust pricing, tighten-up bottom lines and just help them overall with the more solid business plan,” she said. “I think a lot of businesses have taken a step back and actually improved their business plan due to the increase.”

Montgomery is encouraging small business owners to check out the municipality’s website, and contact them for advice.

In the meantime, Berisha said the phone number and social media accounts for Feo’z Pizza have been transferred to Pizza Tonite for those who are looking to order from the Feo’z menu.