Local pizzeria feeling economic fallout

HOMEWOOD And just like the pie he serves, Aurelio realizes today's economy has many messy layers. All are conspiring to hurt his business.

"It's definitely a scary time out there," he said.

Tawnie Connors' husband had his pay cut at work. This is the first the family's been out to eat in more than a month.

"It affects decisions every day in life," Connors, a Chicago Heights resident, said.

Dining room sales at Aurelio's are down three percent. That means fewer people are needed to make and serve the food.

"If you don't want to cut down on the quality of food, the next thing is labor. So, if you can get by with one to two less people in the building, you take that step," Aurelio said.

Aurelio's now has 46 franchised restaurants in six states. They opened three new stores last year. But now the bank just told a new franchisee in Florida terms for the loan to open a new Aurelio's would be stricter.

"A year ago, he would have been fine. But they increased the amount they wanted up front to give the loan. They did not have the disposable money for that, so they didn't qualify," Aurelio said.

Those in the restaurant business aren't just dealing with the credit crunch. Gas prices impact delivery costs. Plus, the prices of ingredients are at record levels. In just the last year, cheese is up 76 percent; flour is up 54 percent.

So now, the Aurelio family, like many small business owners, can do little more than hold their ground and hope loyal customers will keep coming as cash from other sources is drying up.

"It's trying times, but we're looking forward to our 50th anniversary," Aurelio said.

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