Blaming inflation, Papa Willies BBQ in Highwood set to close for good this week


CHICAGO (CBS) — How bad is the skyrocketing inflation? American families are now spending almost $350 more per month than they did last year to buy the same products.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by the biggest margin since 1994, but one north suburban barbecue restaurant said they can’t wait around for the feds; saying inflation, not the pandemic, is forcing them to close their doors.

While the Federal Reserve is trying to pump the brakes on inflation, Papa Willie’s BBQ owner Brian Merel said it’s already too late for his business.

Merel serves up his signature sauce with some signature sass. The corner restaurant named for Merel’s beloved grandfather centers around his own love for food.

“Food to me is all about being connected,” he said.

While food is his lifeblood, the price of food is killing him.

“My weekly bill for groceries was probably about $2,900, something like that. Now, it’s five grand plus. Where am I supposed to make it up?” he said.

Merel has tried to make it up by raising prices; something he says he’s done three times in the past year.

“$18 it used to cost (for a full broasted chicken). $18, but we’re at $26. If I wanted to keep my margins where they used to be, I would have to charge $36,” he said.

That’s something Merel said he won’t do. Instead, he’s decided to close shop, posting a message to his customers on Wednesday, thanking them for supporting the business through the pandemic, citing inflation as the reason he can no longer keep up.

Those same customers kept him busy all day, with orders and offers of how they can help. Merel said, for now, he doesn’t know what’s next.

“There’s always another chapter with me. … I have no idea what it’s going to look like, what language it’ll be written in. But it will be probably Sanskrit, you know? Because that seems to be the most fitting,” he said. “We’ll get there somehow. We’ll figure something out.”

Merel does have a good sense of humor, but that doesn’t hide that fact that he is devastated. Papa Willie’s will be open through July 17 in Highwood.

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