NYC restaurants including Taiwanese hot spot 886, vegan cafe Guevara’s, and Texas-inspired bakery Brooklyn Kolache were hit with skyrocketing electric bills last month, causing a growing sense of panic amongst operators who weren’t able to budget for the sudden increases. The surprise bill payments are just the latest in the wave of supply chain shortages, rising cost of goods, and labor issues restaurants have faced over the course of the past two years.
Local publication Greenpointers reported this week that many North Brooklyn residents saw their January Con Edison bills double in cost, with some neighbors claiming their bills tripled. The recent unexpected price hike comes at a time when Consumer Price Index data shows inflation hit a troubling 7.5 percent increase over the past year, signifying the fastest rate of inflation since 1982, according to the New York Times.
Restaurants across the city experienced similar unexpected spikes in electricity costs as their residential neighbors. Eric Sze, the owner behind the East Village’s 886, tells Eater that he saw a nearly 60 percent increase to his bill this month when it jumped from $2,846 in December to $4,588 in January. He adds that, in 2021, his average monthly electric bill, by contrast, was around $1,680 — less than half his most recent bill.
Alicia Guevara, owner of vegan cafe Guevara’s, which has a location in Clinton Hill and Williamsburg, said her bill went up by 25 percent this month — amounting to an increase of $800 to $1,000 in extra payments — at her larger location in Domino Park.
Meanwhile, Autumn Stanford, who owns two locations of Brooklyn Kolache, as well as Tailfeather bar and Swell Dive, says her bill at the Dekalb Avenue location of Brooklyn Kolache roughly doubled from the usual $400 to $500 per month to $900 in January. Her other businesses faced a similar increase.
Not all businesses have seen as dramatic of an increase, though. Los Tacos No. 1 owner Christian Pineda says he hadn’t yet seen a notable jump at his five locations throughout Manhattan.
In response to the recent reports of Con Edison increases, state senator Julia Salazar took to Twitter to call for the Build Public Renewables Act, which was introduced last year. In a statement to Greenpointers, assemblywoman Emily Gallagher echoed these sentiments, with further choice words for the energy company, saying, “Con Edison will blame this outrageous surge in electricity bills on the cost of natural gas, and while there’s truth in that, the fact is they should have been better prepared and more transparent.”
A spokesperson for Con Edison stated in an email that the energy company agreed bills had been “impacted by the cost of natural gas in the generation of electricity.” However, the spokesperson maintained that Con Edison was not to blame, saying the company “does not generate electricity nor can we manage the financial practices of the private power generators or the suppliers of the natural gas.”
For small business owners like Sze of 886, the unexpected cost increases cuts deeply into overall profits. “It’s like your prescription drug just fucking tripled overnight, what are you going to do, not pay it?” says Sze. “It’s so frustrating, because we have no choice.” Sze adds that reports of a “steady” 13.5 percent increase to Con Edison bills in 2022, as announced in 2020, are digestible to him. But a drastic bill jump overnight, he says, is “highway robbery.”
In recent years, publications like Gothamist have criticized Con Edison’s privately-owned energy “monopoly.” Though third party electricity suppliers exist, they also have their issues, according to critics. Guevara says she’s considered going to a third party energy provider, but she’s “skeptical they won’t also fuck her over.” The owners behind East Williamsburg Nikkei restaurant Koko’s and gluten-free bakery 7 Grain Army, who don’t use Con Edison, tell Eater that their bills did not spike in January.
Stanford says in light of the recent news, she’s unsure of how to plan out her winter budget. “I can normally budget high costs for August, with air conditioning, but it’s never been this high in January,” she says.
Though heating can account for high electricity bills, January is well known to be a slow month in the industry. With less business, owners say that the overnight change was unprecedented, not just for January, but throughout their entire times operating.
Some, like Sze, will look to other areas of their business to make ends meet. For eight months, he has put off raising 886’s prices to stay competitive, but he’s considering it now more than ever, Sze says.
For Guevara, her staggering electric bill isn’t nearly as shocking. She’s already been dealing with the cost of materials, such as packaged plastic utensils, for to-go meals, which more customers have been ordering since the omicron surge.
Still, the effects of soaring electric bills goes beyond restaurant operators. Stanford fears that the increased costs don’t only affect her business, but the livelihoods of her employees, who may be facing the same billing challenges. She also expects that increasing household bills may contribute to customers spending less on dining out.
In light of the surprise payments, restaurant owners say they are bracing themselves for more unexpected spikes in Con Edison bills this year. “I fear this increase is just the beginning of what’s to come,” Stanford says.