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Eateries feel the pinch in tough times
Blue-collar slump is slowing traffic at blue-plate diners
Tori Clore, middle, serves a plate of cantaloupe to Betty Black, right, and Glenda Pierce on Friday at Tori Clore’s Cafe. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Steve Dunn has his "regulars," customers who eat breakfast at Jake's Cafeteria and then come back a few hours later for lunch. He began to notice a few months ago that some of them weren't coming for both meals.

He noticed it in a place that counts: at the cash register.

And his isn't the only midtown eatery, some of which depend upon business from the area's blue-collar workers, that has seen a change.

"What we've experienced is a 20 to 25 percent drop," said Dunn, who bought the cafeteria seven years ago.

The other thing that has happened is that the construction business is slow.

"We had guys who would come down here to the parts houses and eat lunch," Dunn said. His restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is in an industrial area where wholesalers sell electrical and plumbing supplies.

When the construction business was booming, the crews were working overtime on Saturday, giving Dunn a steady breakfast and lunch crowd. He's now closed on Saturday and is opening on Sunday for lunch, reaching an after-church crowd.

The Sunday opening started this month and Dunn said business is picking up. But restaurants like Dunn's are facing problems on both ends. While the customer traffic is down, the cost of goods coming in the back door is going up.

The main products of a Southern-style cafeteria - eggs, bacon, chicken, and anything involving corn - have seen a price increase. His food purveyors are also charging fuel surcharges on deliveries.

"I can't raise my prices every time they raise theirs," Dunn said. "We're having to watch how much we cook and how much leftovers and waste we have."

Tori Clore, who along with her husband, Johnny, has been in the restaurant business most of her life, had watched her business drop beginning last August. Unlike Dunn, she has seen a small resurgence in the past couple of months.

"It actually has picked up," said Clore, whose business, Tori Clore's Cafe, serves up daily helpings of breakfast and lunch.

Clore stopped depending on deliveries of food and now picks it up herself. "My husband compares prices every week," she said.

Clore offers a budget friendly offering of one meat and two vegetables, plus a roll or cornbread for $5.35. Her breakfast of two eggs, bacon or sausage, toast and grits is $4.60. The grits, which are made by her mother-in-law, Dorothy, became famous when the family had a restaurant in downtown Gainesville. She has a steady stream of customers who come from various parts of the county to dine at her establishment.

For Chad Vaughan, the story is much different. His Big Bear Restaurant does not depend on the blue-collar workers.

"I've got guys coming in here in suits," said Vaughn, who said his business has remained strong.
When he opened three years ago, some worried that the area near the Amtrak station might be a less-than-desirable neighborhood.

"Just our being here has turned it around, plus the arts studio and the florist has turned it around," Vaughan said. "We're running out of tables some days."

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