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Merlino Foods says it’s suffering under Seattle leadership

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)
LISTEN: Merlino Foods owner Joe Biesold shares his frustrations with Seattle City Council

Another Seattle business is speaking out about the strain caused by the city’s leadership.

“It’s frustrating because I don’t think any (council members) have been in our shoes,” Jeff Biesold, owner of Merlino Foods, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “They have no idea what it’s like to get out of bed at 4:30 in the morning and put everything you have on the line to try to keep 100 people employed and keep your customer base happy and do it within budget. I don’t think any of them have had a budget. We don’t have the option to raise prices, or ask for more money, or demand money.”

RELATED: Seattle council contentious over proposed business tax

Merlino Foods supplies many of Seattle’s restaurants and food service businesses. It’s been in Seattle for 100 years. But in recent years, the city has piled on more expenses to businesses like Merlino — taxes and a higher minimum wage for example. The council is currently considering a new head tax on the city’s top-earning companies (that make more than $5 million annually). The tax would be on every hour each employee works. Biesold said it will cost him about $10,000 each year. The city wants to use the tax revenue to fund homelessness programs.

“In our industry, restaurant distribution, our poor restaurants have just been hammered,” Biesold said. “The soda tax is going to kill them; it’s just one more nail in the coffin. This whole $15 an hour thing. The shortage of labor. Nobody has anything left to give at this stage in the game.”

“These restaurants, everybody thinks they are making a killing,” he said. “The fact of the matter is ingredients cost a lot of money, labor is through the roof, rent is expensive. Everybody is just running razor thin at this point.”

Business in and out of Seattle

Meanwhile, the dais has become tense at city hall. When Councilmember Sally Bagshaw suggested the council include the business community in the current tax discussion, the backlash was quick and sharp.

“These top percent of businesses, people want to act like they are pinching and scraping,” Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley said in response to Bagshaw’s comments. “You’re not pinching and scraping when you are bringing home $420 million in revenue. You’re not.”

Harris-Talley’s comment was aimed at Bartell Drugs and the revenue it takes in. Biesold said that his family-run business doesn’t take in nearly that much, but it would still qualify to pay the head tax.

Other businesses have also already reacted to Seattle’s approach to business. Most recently, a Papa John’s in West Seattle closed its doors, leaving a note on them, stating: “It is with great regret after 18 years of operation that the cost of doing business in the City of Seattle has made operating this location unsustainable.”

Jones Soda moved from Vancouver B.C. to Seattle in 2000. But now its CEO says that the company would be better off back in Canada than to stay in the Emerald City. The soda company was recently hit by Seattle’s new sugary drink tax.

After passing a gun tax, one outdoor store fired two employees, and another shop left town entirely.

Buffalo Industries in SoDo decided to leave Seattle partially because of the attitude owner Mark Benezra says he gets from the city.

“I’m moving my business out of Seattle city limits, not only because of the homeless situation but because of a variety of factors; definitely the tone and tenor of the city hasn’t helped the situation,” Benezra told the Dori Monson Show.

But most of the council members’ comments on big business target companies such as Amazon. Amazon, too, may be responding to that sentiment. It is currently considering another city to establish a second headquarters. Amazon is still expanding in Seattle, but its HQ2 will place 50,000 high-paying jobs out of the city. GeekWire’s Todd Bishop recently said the move out of town was a subtle message to Seattle leaders — it can take its business elsewhere.

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