COST OF LIVING CRISIS: Covid-19 pandemic was 'like a sweet dream' for Burnley restaurant compared to terrifying few months ahead, says The Palazzo boss

The Covid-19 pandemic was 'like a sweet dream' for businesses compared to the terrifying few months ahead, says a Burnley restaurant owner.

Businesses are heading into “uncharted times” that will shut them down if the Government does not step in to help them cope with rising energy prices, according to Pino Cafasso.

The 52-year-old, who has run The Palazzo in Grimshaw Street for seven years, is not only facing food shortages of key ingredients on his menu but also a 200 percent jump in gas and electricity bills by January to keep the ovens firing at work, as companies are not protected by an energy price cap.

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Pino said: “If I’m honest, during the pandemic it was the best time because we got help with the business and with staff. It was like a sweet dream. I had no worries.

Pino Cafasso, ower of The Palazzo in Burnley. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

"The business felt the pinch because there was no trading but it was just like a parentheses.”

But, he added: "Everything has changed now. We’re in uncharted times.

"There’s a frustration with bills rising to sky high levels, and the cost of living is putting a big strain on everybody.

"I see its effect on customers coming in. I have seen a drop in footfall. They are still coming out but they are being careful with their spending. It’s not looking good for the next few months to come.”

Exterior of The Palazzo in Burnley. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

Can businesses switch energy suppliers to find a better deal?

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Pino said: "It’s difficult to actually get a contract for energy bills because no-one will guarantee a price for gas or electricity. It puts me in a position where I can’t decide on prices for my menus, which we’re being careful with at the moment.

“We used to talk about ‘heat or eat’ like it was a gimmick but it looks like it’s coming into force. It’s now a way of life.

“The smell of a recession is around but I don’t think it has sunk in for most people.”

He added: "I’m very faithful to the UK Government. We’ve had one or two recessions but I can see us coming back from this. Things will get better but how are going to handle them between now and then?”

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What food shortages is Pino facing?

"As well as energy, we’re also facing shortages for main food items like flour, oil and tomatoes,” Pino said.

"The Ukraine war has had an impact on all our lives. It keeps going on and on and there seems to be no end.

“When we rang our supplier, there weren't many tomatoes left, one of the main ingredients on my menu. And unfortunately, I can’t source them in the UK because we don’t produce them here. In our case, we don’t just buy one or two cases, we buy a lot. It’s those quantities that are scarce - our main Italian suppliers are running out.”

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How could these issues affect Palazzo customers?

Pino worries that paying out more for energy and scarce food items will force him to increase his menu prices in order to stay afloat.

He added: “We can only put our prices so high and then we’ll have to say we can’t sell certain products. It’s not right for the last person on the chain who’ll feel the weight of all this, which is the customer.”