THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Inflation and High Price of Deliveries Hurting Pizzeria Owner

Wheatland restaurateur plans to transform business in the coming weeks

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Business owner Brian Slattery is poised for change—and inflation is partially to blame.

In early January, Slattery, 42, opened the Purple Cow Cafe as a dual pizzeria and art gallery in a building that dates back to 1889. With limited options for pizza in Wheatland, he was “slammed” with customers and turned a profit immediately after opening.

But seven months later, with the rising costs of supplies, the business is just breaking even.

Brian Slattery tosses pizza dough while working at the Purple Cow Café, which he opened in January in Wheatland. (Courtesy photo by Lawrence David)

“We’re in the middle of nowhere, and because of that, it’s a struggle to keep my shelves stocked with things that I need,” said Slattery, a father of two, who works as a contractor by day and tosses pizza dough Monday through Saturday evening.  “And the problem with us being so far away from a distributor, as the gas prices go up, the distributors are telling us, ‘Well, we’re going to have to up your cases [of supplies] for us to deliver.’”

Slattery’s weekly ingredients delivery previously cost $600. Now, he pays $1,000 to $1,200 for pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and other meats.

“That makes it really hard, because I have to up my sales now to make up for that,” said Slattery, who reduced his utilities usage and closed the art gallery to save money.  “And then there is stuff I’m buying and then throwing out because I don’t go through it, but I have to have a certain [number] of cases for them to deliver to me. So, that’s like a main struggle, big time.” 

Like other business owners, Slattery has passed some of those costs onto customers, charging about $4 to $5 more for a 16-inch specialty pizza. Customers had yet another reason to stay home when gas prices skyrocketed.

“The day it [a gallon of gas] went up to $4.60 or something like that in our town, I have never recovered since,” Slattery said. “My sales have just dropped so much.”

He paused, before adding: “Living in a small town, there’s not a lot of customers to go around for everybody. It’s very sporadic…and any business owner here will tell you there is no consistency at all of when you’re going to be busy and when you’re going to be slow.”

At this point, Slattery is ready to pivot. In September, he will convert his casual pizzeria into a family restaurant that serves a variety of gourmet Italian dishes.

“Pasta is cheap, and you can have a pretty good markup on pasta,” Slattery said. “So maybe I can make up for everything that I have been losing here. I really enjoy seeing people in here eating at night…I want this place packed . . .”

Pizza will still be on the menu after the switch, Slattery assured, but will include more Italian-style options like margherita and Neapolitan rather than specialty pizza such as BBQ chicken. He plans to do all the cooking and will hire a server.  

“What I want to do is make it more like family portions, so it will be one set price for a big bowl of pasta and then you serve yourself at the table,” Slattery said. “I am kind of hoping it will help things out better and give people more options and make it more like a date night, reservations-only type place. And maybe by then, miraculously, the economy will do a turnaround, and I’ll even do better.”

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