Clif Leir always strived to bring the best local ingredients to each plate at his restaurant—no matter the cost. But sourcing locally is hard work, and coupled with rising inflation and food prices, it’s among a few reasons Agrius is shutting its doors for good this Sunday.
“We hoped to be in better shape heading into spring,” owner Leir told Tasting Victoria. “We just don’t have any room to take a loss.”
In Victoria, supporting local farmers has become a point of pride, with the BC government sponsoring events such as Every Chef Needs a Farmer so local suppliers can connect with industry professionals and create more opportunities to bring BC food to plates around the province.
Global supply chain issues due to COVID-19 and the Ukraine/Russia war have led to more calls for shorter supply chains and a renewed interest in community food supply.
“[Sourcing locally] is much more challenging, but we feel like that’s important,” said Leir. “It supports the farms that we want to see more of here on the Island. We’re here to support local agriculture.”
But lurking in the background, with gargantuan supply chains, well-oiled customer service departments and cheaper prices, are the ubiquitous wholesale food distributors.
“That’s why almost everyone uses Sysco, or Gordon Food Service,” he said. “Those companies make it easier to run a business.”
Making matters worse is the rising cost of living, driven in part by inflation. Many families are staying home or even heading to the food bank rather than eating out, while the growing cost of food is hitting restaurants’ bottom lines directly as well.
Last year, there was a 5-7% total increase in food prices, and that trend is expected to continue into 2023, according to Canada’s Food Price report. This year, the report said a family of four is expected to pay over $1,000 more for food than in 2022.
Some local restaurants have also fallen prey to an alleged citywide scam: in August, Leir, among more than a dozen local restaurant owners, accused local delivery service Tutti of failing to pay them their share of the bills Tutti had collected from customers. Leir said the late bills Tutti owes him add up to $4,000. JJ Wonton House has taken Tutti’s parent company, Kavl Technologies, to court for more than $220,000.
For a business that Leir said prides itself in supporting local and its staff with competitive wages, it’s been a challenge to maintain it.
“We are kind-of at a break-even model,” Leir said. “We try to keep prices down and pay staff as much as we can—but that doesn’t leave much leeway.”
While Agrius may be shutting its doors after this Sunday, its sister bakery, Fol Epi, will remain open and take over brunch service from Agrius.