Local restaurants expect strong Thanksgiving business

Forget about Black Friday, for restaurants and grocery stores, the main economic action from Thanksgiving is still the meal itself.

Kim Henck, the owner of Union Hall in Johnstown, said Thanksgiving Day is one of the top three grossing days of the year for his business, the other two being Mother’s Day and Easter.

As of last week, he said he received more than 100 dinner reservations and expects to have about 150 total.

“That’s basically turning [the restaurant] over one and a half times, and by the time we’re done, we’ll turn it over twice as far as seating,” he said. “We allow a couple of hours between seating so people have time to enjoy their meal.”

Shelly Rose, owner of Wine and Roses in Broadalbin, said she received 170 reservations at her restaurant for Thanksgiving as of last week, but she could handle as many as 100 more. She said she’d like to have about 250, nearly double the typical 130 dinners Wine and Roses serves nightly. Rose said this is the second year Wine and Roses has been open for Thanksgiving, but she was the longtime owner of the White Holland House, where she served Thanksgiving dinner with essentially the same menu for years. Rose said Thanksgiving is an important part of the business model for a restaurant like hers.

“The dining holidays are always big; we kind of count on them,” she said.

The cost of the main ingredients of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner appears to be at least flat from last year, and for some items should be down, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual survey of consumer grocery prices.

The American Farm Bureau estimates the average non-sale food cost of feeding 10 people a meal of turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, should be about $49.04, down 44 cents from last year.

The credit for this year’s slight drop in price goes to stable commodity and fuel prices, both strong drivers of the prices consumers pay at the store, says Ricky Volpe, a research economist with the USDA’s Economic Research Service. He says overall, grocery prices are down about one-tenth of a percent since January.

One exception – poultry. Though the Farm Bureau didn’t detect a price increase in turkey since last year (they actually found the price for a 16-pound bird down 47 cents), Volpe says consumers shouldn’t be surprised if that component of the meal jumps as much as 5 percent over last year. Higher demand and feed prices are to blame.

Henck said he’s seen the price of most of the ingredients he uses stay the same from last year or go up a little bit. He said last year he paid about $1.39 per pound for turkeys, and he expects to go through more than 400 pounds of turkey Thursday.

“In the stores, you can get turkeys for a little less, but they’re also smaller turkeys. We get 30- plus-pound turkeys, so they are usually a little more expensive. The cost might be a little bit less, but it’s not a big difference from what we’ve seen in past years,” he said.

Rose said she’s seen the cost of some items go up, but she’s keeping her prices the same at $15.95 per dinner.

“We’re paying the same price for turkey we did last year, and other things have gone up. Shrimp has gone up right through the roof,” she said.

Henck said Union Hall charges $17.98 per person. “That’s the year the building was built,” he said.

Chris Curro, the manager of the Mohawk Valley Harvest Cooperative Market, said he sells locally grown produce to a lot of restaurants that serve Thanksgiving dinner, including Union Hall and Wine and Roses. He said the demand for locally produced food is growing for the Thanksgiving holiday, even in cases when consumers have to pay a premium for the local product.

“We did 37 percent more of presale of turkeys this year than we did in 2012, and we’re selling potatoes like we’ve not done in the past. We actually bought 10 times the brussels sprouts that we bought last year,” he said.

Curro said Mohawk Valley Harvest Cooperative Market has pre-sold about 90 locally raised turkeys. He said his turkeys aren’t as cheap as those in larger supermarkets, but the cost is more reflective of the farmer’s actual cost.

“To feed your family a beautiful turkey, you’ve also got to feed a farmer,” he said.

Rose said another trend in Thanksgiving dinner economics is people with gluten allergies. She said she’s including a gluten-free gravy this year on her menu to meet that need.

“There are so many gluten-free people out there now, we always have it available if they request it,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.