Another long-standing Wollongong restaurant has called it quits as rising costs take a bite out of the city's hospitality sector.
The Mango Tree Indian restaurant on Cliff Road in Wollongong had its last day of service this past weekend and owner Khilendra Kafle is upping sticks to focus exclusively on the business's Lake Heights location.
The news comes just a fortnight after another Wollongong institution, Ziggy's House of Nomms shut up shop.
Owners of both outlets have said rising costs and a lack of weeknight dining has forced their hand.
"After the restrictions, COVID completely changed the mentality of people to just ordering food and enjoying time with their family," Mr Kafle said. "We are not getting that many customers on weekdays, when they used to come before COVID."
Nowadays, Mr Kafle said dine-in customers on Sunday through Thursday combined were equivalent to how many would walk in the door on Friday and Saturday nights, while the total number had dropped by half.
"Before [COVID] I would average seven to eight hundred customers a week."
On the costs front, Mr Kafle said he was hit by rising rents and skyrocketing food prices.
"Every time the interest rate goes up, we can't put the prices on the menu up."
Across the business, costs have risen dramatically. Mr Kafle said chicken had gone from eight dollars a kilo to $14 a kilo and red meat had gone from $15 a kilo to $23.
In the past five years, rent on the premises that overlooks North Beach has risen from $11,000 a month to $20,000 a month.
Compounding these issues has been a struggle to find casual staff, particularly as international students have either been slow to return to Australia or preferred to work for delivery apps.
But, Mr Kafle said he remains confident in the hospitality sector, having operated the business for the past decade.
Some of the restaurateur's fondest memories were the annual Bollywood nights held on New Years Eve, attended in some years by hundreds of diners. While attendance dropped off during the years of COVID restrictions, the night was such a part of the restaurant's identity that the party still went ahead.
From the Lake Heights location, Mr Kafle said the restaurant could better serve the growing areas of Shellharbour and Dapto. With the growing diversity of the Illawarra, Mr Kafle said he hoped to introduce more Nepalese dishes, along with Indian classics.
"There is still room to survive, but we have to think about different options."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.