Food Issue

Ask the Expert: Dave Pike

The owner of Jalisco Cantina and Tupelo Grille answers questions about the tight labor market and the challenges facing the restaurant business

By Maggie Dresser

After opening Jalisco Cantina, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar in San Diego in 2017, Dave Pike opened a second restaurant in Whitefish three years later and has since added to his roster of businesses. He recently launched a Casita de Jalisco adjacent to the restaurant in Whitefish to offer grab-and-go burritos and he purchased Tupelo Grille on Central Avenue last fall. He spoke with the Beacon to discuss the industry’s labor market, customer demand trends and the challenges of the restaurant business in 2024.

The following is an excerpt from that conversation that has been edited for clarity.

How have you adapted to the tight labor market at Jalisco Cantina?

Is there a lack of labor? Yes – but we have added some employee housing and that’s been an advantage for us, and it’s helped create a good opportunity for income and scheduling for employees who can walk to work. We’ve had good retention and things haven’t been devastating for us – but we’d love to have more resumes coming over.

We did a considerable wage hike, especially for back of the house, and that’s helped with retention. The staffing has not influenced our menu at all and we do seasonal menu changes – but it’s not driven by staffing.

How has demand changed since opening in 2020?

Since I’ve opened Jalisco, we have improved each year. 2023 was our best year ever, and that could be for a couple factors. We have been doing lunch every day, and we had a really strong summer. It’s not as much of a frenzy, but it’s been good and I think as we get some years behind us in the community, we get a buildup of local consistency.

What have been the greatest challenges?

This year, we are hoping for more snow to maximize our ski tourism business. After buying Tupelo in October, it took four months to get through the remodel and we recently opened. It’s been as good as I could have hoped and, like any opening of a new restaurant, we are working through some small nuances and a new team in the back of the house. We are working together every day and we are super optimistic – I’m grateful that there’s enough strong local support even if there’s a lack of snow. Even our off-season has been a good experience.