The Puerto Rico Restaurant Association expressed concern Tuesday over the closure of several restaurants in the past few weeks and urged government action to prevent further losses for the industry that could adversely affect the island’s economic development.
Humberto Rovira, head of the association known as ASORE in Spanish, said the recent closings of three popular San Juan metropolitan area eateries — Varita, La Patisserie and Dunbar’s — represent capital losses and leave dozens unemployed.
All three restaurants closed within the last two months and are but a fraction of those in trouble. Those that are struggling against closing often seek protection from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, whose records are bursting with petitions from the island’s restaurant sector.
“This year has been difficult for many restaurants and some have been forced to cease operations, negatively impacting dozens of employees and their owners and the economic development of Puerto Rico,” Rovira said. “It’s a ripple effect that leads to the closings. It is urgent to take measures to stop it.”
One of the most pressing measures needed, he said, is the reduction in the cost of electricity, since it is the main incremental element in operating costs. He added that the government should assess further measures to lower food costs in Puerto Rico, for example, in the area of maritime shipping rules.
Meanwhile, he also pointed out that lawmakers should refrain from approving measures that affect food companies by increasing their operational costs, such as Senate Bill 2281, which proposes creating an agency to regulate the production, processing and imports of poultry meat and byproducts. Among other things, the bill approves establishing mechanisms to fix minimum sale prices and impose penalties for violating the stipulation.
“The market is the one that should set the price of the articles and not the government. Its duty would be to monitor it and make sure there is no abuse,” said Rovira.
The island’s food industry represents 6 percent of the island’s gross national product and generates more than 55,000 direct jobs.
“This industry must be reinvented at all times to survive. We are an integral part of Puerto Rico’s economic development and need action to stop this trend of restaurant closures,” he said.