KAUKAUNA, Wis. — Ernesto Morales has spent most of his life in the pizza business.

He’s the owner of Pagoni’s Pizzeria in Kaukauna, Wis.

“What keeps me coming to work is our customers and our product. I love my product, I eat my product everyday,:” he said. “The employees, they keep me young.”

Like many restaurant owners he’s navigated a long list of hurdles the past three years: from finding help to ingredient shortages and inflation.

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

The latest national concern is the potential for lost yields in California’s tomato crop because of a hard drought.

Morales said he’s confident he’ll get the products he needs to keep making pizzas.

“Having two vendors, they have a plan A, plan B and plan C. If they can’t get their product, they’re going to get it from a different area in the U.S.,” he said. “If they can’t get it from a certain part of the U.S., they’ll order from a different country.” 

Mike Balistrieri, department chair of Fox Valley Technical College’s Culinary Arts Department, said tomatoes are the latest item in a topsy-turvy world of ingredients.

“Last year it was drought in Idaho, which wasn’t producing as many potatoes and therefore we’ve seen increases in things like potato chips going up by sometimes 20%. French fries going up,” he said. “Now we’re seeing this transition to California where they’re seeing the hardest drought in 1,000 years and we’ve seen ketchup prices go up by upward of 20-plus%.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)

Balistrieri said some restaurant operators are looking close to home to help stabilize some of the swings.

“One way we have seen a lot of restaurants transition is incorporating as many local producers as possible,” he said. “Whether that’s going to your local farmers market, anything that can help the local farmers but then also have more solid pricing across the board.”

Morales continues to evolve with the pizza industry and has his sights set on creating a new generation of pizza lovers, even as he and others face increased costs across the board.

“From last year, my food costs have gone probably around 25%, and with the tomatoes just a little bit more. The year before we were around 15%,” he said. “Keep in mind, food costs typically go up only between 3-6%.”

(Spectrum News 1/Nathan Phelps)