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August 27, 2022

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Is the New Mexico restaurant scene recovering? It depends on who you ask.

Food and hospitality were some of the hardest hit industries during the crisis.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association stated in a release on August 12 that the restaurant industry has lost more than 20,000 jobs and 1,000 restaurants in New Mexico between 2019 and December 2021.

But the numbers provided by the state’s restaurant group conflict with the National Restaurant Association report and state permit data.

The National Restaurant Association reports data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that New Mexico actually added 2,000 food service jobs between 2019 and 2022 — an increase of less than 3%, but an increase nonetheless. New Mexico was one of 18 states that posted a net improvement in restaurant employment rates.

And, as of June 2022, there are about 350 more restaurants and bars allowed in the state before the outbreak, according to data from the New Mexico Department of Environment, Albuquerque City and Bernalillo County compiled by the governor’s office.

Carol Wight, CEO of the NMRA, said in an interview Tuesday that restaurants are still struggling, but acknowledged that employment has improved through December 2021, which was the latest data included in the NMRA release.

“I know we’ve added a lot of jobs since December,” Wight said. “That’s obvious because we need people. I just know we still need more people.”

A party conflict has arisen over NMRA restaurant numbers.

Days after the publication of the NMRA, the Republican Party of New Mexico issued a response, job losses and business losses suffered by Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her restaurant closures during the pandemic.

“The numbers don’t lie, a new report released by the New Mexico Restaurant Association proves that Gov. Lujan Grisham has severely damaged the state’s vital restaurant industry, the latest example of the Governor’s inaction and brutal action. against small businesses in New Mexico,” read the release, published by New Mexico Republican Party communications director Mike Curtis.

In March 2020, Lujan Grisham issued a public health order that shuts down non-essential businesses. Domestic consumption is still banned as of July 2020, and in that month, the NMRA filed a lawsuit against Lujan Grisham during the epidemic of domestic consumption bans. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, and in July 2021, all epidemic restrictions were lifted across the state.

The governor said in a recent press release that she is happy with the progress made by small businesses in recent months.

“There is no doubt that the tourism and hospitality industry has shown incredible strength and resilience over the past few years, which have been particularly difficult in this sector,” Lujan Grisham was quoted as saying. “I am incredibly encouraged by this recent information.”

John Haas, president and co-founder of M’Tucci restaurants, which has four locations around Albuquerque, one of which opened this year, said he thinks the industry is moving in the right direction.

“I’m really, really optimistic about the outlook for our industry right now,” Haas said. “I think we’re going to continue to see that change in our industry.”

An August press release from the NMRA said that in 2019, 96,000 people worked in New Mexico restaurants, and by December 2021, that number had been reduced to 75,000 workers.

In an interview this week, Wight said those two numbers came from different sources: the 2019 number from the New Mexico Department of Tourism, and the 2021 number from the New Mexico Department of Employment Solutions.

However, the two numbers refer to different groups of workers, according to government officials.

Cody Johnson, a spokesman for the Department of Tourism, said in a written statement that the 96,064 jobs broadly referred to all jobs that tourism drives to the state, not just food service jobs. The statistics are published in their annual report on the Economic Impact of Visitors to New Mexico. Workplace Solutions’ employment data, however, was limited to restaurant and bar jobs.

In Quarter 3 of 2021, Workforce Solutions published that 70,301 people worked in food and beverage in New Mexico, which does not include other tourism-related jobs included in the original figure from the Department of Tourism. A similar data point from Employment Solutions shows that at the end of 2019, 74,617 people were employed in restaurants and bars in New Mexico, indicating a decrease in employment of about 6%. The Employment Solutions data is now smaller than the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which includes employment through 2022 as well.

BLS data shows that employment in leisure and hospitality in general — including arts, entertainment/entertainment, lodging, and food services — in New Mexico has steadily increased since the 2020 recession.

Manufacturing employment in New Mexico fell by 57,400 workers in April 2020.

Two years later, in June of this year, 98,500 New Mexicans were employed in leisure and hospitality, nearly meeting the level of 99,200 seen in June 2019.

And restaurants have done well. Between June 2019 and June 2022, New Mexico had the ninth highest employment in food and beverage establishments in the country by percentage.

Unemployment is the lowest it has been in the state since 2008, although the rate is still higher than the national average. Many officials and industry leaders remain concerned about the region’s low labor force participation rate.

Kimberly Heimerich, owner of The Perfect Gift… Shoppe in Old Town, which opened in June 2020, said she has seen the area face business closures over the past few years. One of her favorite restaurants, La Crêpe Michel, was closed during the disaster.

“When people congratulate me on surviving two years, I think: ‘it’s still a struggle’,” Heimerich said.

Haas said that even without the added burden of disaster, surviving the food world is difficult.

“The restaurant industry is a really tough industry, the margins are really thin,” Haas said.

Before the pandemic, nearly 50,000 U.S. food and beverage establishments were closed each year and 60,000 were opened, according to a statement from the National Restaurant Association.

“We’re in a factory with a lot of openings and closings,” Haas said. “I think for a while we’ve seen a lot of closings and not a lot of openings.”

In the past few months, Haas said, he’s seen more restaurants open than any other time during the disaster. His businesses, including one that opened during the pandemic, have also been busy.

“It was really easy to get down, and feel like a victim during the disaster in our industry…you really have to show up and fight the battles you can win,” Haas said.