FILE - Health Orders New Mexico

In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, waiter carriers a check to a patron seated in a tent in the parking lot of a restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

(The Center Square) – The easing of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years has not erased the damage to New Mexico restaurants, an industry group told The Center Square.

New Mexico Restaurant Association CEO Carol Wight said the state's restaurant industry is still dealing with what she called a "three-headed monster." 

"I wish I could say that we're so much better off than we were a few years ago," Wight told The Center Square. "But I think the reality is that [the] supply chain is completely a mess, compounded by the fact that we have inflation and labor shortages."

"We were expecting 2022 to be this time of getting back to business as usual," she said. "Everything changed in the meantime and there is no business as usual."

Restaurants are sensitive about raising prices too high even when the cost of their ingredients and labor are rising, according to Wight.

"There is a fear that if the prices [go] too high, customers will give up restaurants altogether," she said.

The big-ticket COVID-19 federal relief programs are largely gone, leaving restaurant owners with the cruel reality of the post-pandemic landscape and all of its challenges, Wight said.

In meeting with legislators, Wight said she's asking them to consider assistance for restaurateurs.

"New Mexico government is flush with cash," she said. "What we are asking for is to help out businesses that still have debt from the pandemic."

KOB4 reported that the group has said almost 1,100 restaurants across New Mexico closed during the pandemic.

"I am hoping that has stopped, but from what I hear, people are riding out the leases they have and then they aren't going to renew," Wight said. "The negative forces become too much, and they give up."

The governor's office is challenging those numbers, according to KOB4, saying there are more restaurants in the state than prior to the pandemic.

Wight said she's checking the governor's numbers, which she believes may include "all food service permits including institutional, schools, grocery stores, convenience stores and others."

" I have requested the data to confirm the state's numbers," she said. "Unfortunately, there are three agencies that hold that information, so it could be awhile before I’m able to confirm that."