Business is booming.

Pacific Northwest Restaurants Struggle as Temperatures Spike

Wednesday the temperature in the tight kitchen is up blotto, a pizza restaurant in Seattle, reached 108 degrees. Like many restaurants in town, Blotto does not have air conditioning. Facing west, it gets hours of summer afternoon sun.

The pizzeria’s owners, Jordan Koplowitz and Caleb Hoffmann, work in the kitchen, by far the small shop’s most popular space. To cope, they drink plenty of water and wrap themselves in cold, wet towels.

“We try to finish making pizzas as early as possible so we can turn off the ovens and get our employees and us out of the restaurant to go down and chill by the water,” said Mr Koplowitz. .

Blotto is just one of hundreds of restaurants trying to weather a weeklong heatwave that has swept the Pacific Northwest, bringing record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures in a region where air conditioning isn’t the norm. But extreme heat, caused by man-made climate change, looks like a new fact for an industry that relies on a hot oven in the kitchen and comfortable customers in the dining room.

On more and more days, dining outside is out of the question, refrigeration costs are rising and temperatures for kitchen workers are approaching unbearable.

This week’s high temperatures — expected to last through the weekend, peaking at about 110 degrees in parts of eastern Oregon and Washington — are reminiscent of the heat dome that settled over the region last summer, leading to the heat-related deaths. of hundreds of people in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Blotto opened its doors just over a year ago, just before the start of the heat dome. The heat forced the restaurant to close for a day and temporarily change the menu. To stay open this summer, the owners are trying to shorten opening times as much as possible and encourage customers to order takeaway.

“Everyone has been very fanatical about just fighting it out and taking care of ourselves,” said Mr. Hoffmann.

But not working at all during the heat wave is for Erica Montgomery, the owner and chef of Erica’s Soul Food, a food truck in Portland, Oregon. During last year’s heat wave, she stopped the truck after losing all her food when the local power grid went out. This year she is not taking any chances. Her truck is closed this week and all the food she prepares for catering is stored in an air-conditioned kitchen.

“If it’s 95 degrees outside, it will be at least 10 to 15 degrees warmer than inside the truck,” she said.

In Washington, only 53 percent of households use some form of air conditioning, and that number is 76 percent in Oregon, according to a 2022 report by the US Energy Information Administration.

But while Kirsten Weiler McGarvey, a 33-year-old college student in Portland, doesn’t have air conditioning in her tiny apartment, she doesn’t seek out the cool dining rooms of restaurants, “because Covid-19 is still a thing. ”

Last year, when the temperature reached 116 in Portland, she noted that eating out wasn’t even an option because many restaurants were closed.

“Portland as a city is not equipped for the heat at all,” she said. “I think a lot of people in other parts of the country really have the advantage that air conditioning is normal. They don’t necessarily understand how crippling it can actually be. The stuff melted last year. Blinds were melting. Roads were splitting.”

nostranaan Italian restaurant in Portland, had to close completely during last year’s heat wave.

This year, so far, the restaurant has only closed the option of alfresco dining. Cathy Whims, the chef and an owner, said no outside seating was allowed on Tuesdays, and that “hardly anyone chose to sit outside” on Wednesdays. She also expected to close the patio on Friday and Saturday nights.

Ms Whims said it is a difficult decision to cancel outdoor dining as it means the reservations will be lost for the many people who still don’t feel comfortable eating inside due to the recent Covid wave. During heat waves like this, Ms. Whims estimates sales drop 30 to 40 percent, during what is normally the busiest time of year for restaurants in Portland.

She added that energy costs also rise during periods of high heat, and that air-conditioned places “don’t have the kind of power to manage this kind of heat.”

Operating a restaurant for the past few years has been one hub after another, said Ms. Whims. “All of these decisions are unfortunately so in the moment, in the same way Covid decisions were and are.”

Double Mountain Brewery, about an hour’s drive east of Portland on the Columbia River in Hood River, Oregon, serves pizza with its beers — but only if the temperatures are cooperating. The impact of this week’s heat wave was relatively minor for customers at Double Mountain, where air conditioning and cold beer can keep them cool, said Matt Swihart, the owner and brewmaster.

The kitchen is having a hard time, he said. The extractor hoods of the pizza ovens, which help to direct the smoke out of the building, also bring in warm air from the outside. After closing during last summer’s deadly heat wave, Mr. Swihart now turns off the pizza ovens when the kitchen reaches 100 degrees, such as Wednesday and Thursday. When that happens, the brewery switches to a sandwich-only menu.

“That has kept the peace with our staff,” he said. “The pandemic stress and changes that restaurants across the country have been experiencing have been particularly tough on the service industry, and we just don’t have room to push. We are wrong by keeping our employees happy and as comfortable as possible and by giving them shelter.”

On days when Double Mountain can only serve sandwiches, Mr. Swihart estimates the company loses 30 to 40 percent of its daily revenue. Electricity costs are up 25 percent during these hot spells, he said, and the refrigeration and HVAC systems are “really working overtime.”

During last year’s heat, monthly energy costs rose by thousands of dollars. Looking ahead, Mr. Swihart said he is planting more trees along the outdoor dining area to provide more shade, and installing an additional $20,000 cooling unit.

But at Blotto, the Seattle pizza restaurant, Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Koplowitz have no intention of adapting the restaurant to future heat waves. Because it doesn’t have air conditioning, the high temperatures mean slightly higher refrigeration costs, but nothing that will break the bank, they said. “It affects us two days a year,” said Mr Koplowitz. “It’s hard to put money or time into solving a problem that barely exists.”

“It certainly makes me grateful that this is something that we deal with about once a year — obviously with increasing frequency, duration and severity, which is scary,” added Mr. Hoffman. “But all in all, we have it pretty easy here in Seattle for the rest of the year.”

Mr. Swihart is less optimistic.

“The climate is indeed getting warmer every year,” he said. “I just hope these events don’t increase, but my scientific brain tells me they’re going to get worse.”