New restaurants pop up in central Indiana while taking on the pandemic’s challenges

CARMEL, Ind. — As the pandemic winds down, area restaurants are seeing a surge in demand. It’s prompting some new establishments to pop up, but concept and hiring challenges remain.

“We have restaurants doing their best weeks with three or four servers when they should have ten,” explains Patrick Tamm, President and CEO of the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association (InRLA), “Starbucks throughout the state, and some locations, they aren’t open on Mondays.”

Economic data shows Indiana restaurants have lost 20,000 employees since the pandemic hit. This comes despite that return of demand and reduced restrictions. InRLA says new restaurants may have an upper hand on servers because new places tend to bring a customer surge that they can collect on. Regardless, places like Wahlburgers in Carmel are still hiring before their grand opening on Monday.

“It’s been an opportunity all over the country, but we like to say there is always room at the table,” says Carmel Wahlburgers General Manager Andrew Pedersen.

InRLA adds that spots may also have a tough time getting certain goods. Tamm says steak prices are extremely high because processing facilities can’t get their employees back to work either.

“You have restaurants on the fly changing their business concepts in terms of we are going to counter service today?” explains Tamm.

Counter service and fast-casual dining can operate with fewer employees while maximizing carry-out efforts. The operators of the new LA Taco restaurant across from the Fashion Mall say their fast-casual concept was created with the pandemic in mind.

“We tried to bring something new in town,” says Ngary Badiane who operates LA Taco, “People are still conscious about their health, so they order them and take it home.”

LA Taco offers counter service, but all of their ingredients are made fresh. The tortillas are formed and cooked in front of the customers, while the brisket smokes for hours upon hours. It’s taking a traditional dine-in meal and converting it to pandemic habits.

“Lots of people are excited to try something new,” adds Badiane, “Since we are open, we have people coming back.”

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