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NMRA Restaurateurs Discuss Bailout at NRA Public Affairs Conference

The financial bailout was the main topic of conversation with New Mexico’s congressional delegation in meetings with NMRA representatives: Mike Maxwell of Furrs Fresh Buffet, Tom Hutchinson of La Posta Restaurant, Jerry Harrell of Double Eagle Restaurant, JoAnn Carolla formerly of Bravo Fine Wine and Food and Carol Wight, CEO of NMRA. The New Mexico delegation went to Washington DC to take part in a nationwide effort by the National Restaurant Association to alert Congress to several key restaurant industry problems including a proposal outlawing the secret ballot in union elections (card check), the diversion of 30% of the corn crop from food to ethanol and providing customers with nutritional information they can use in selecting menu items. The group expressed general opposition to a universal financial bailout without oversight and conditions designed to protect the American taxpayer to the fullest extent possible. Hutchinson also put on his banker hat as Chairman of the Board of Citizens Bank of Las Cruces and said, while smaller banks were stronger than the major houses who took on reams of bad debt, they could still be subject to runs on cash, so increasing the FDIC insurance level from $100,000 to $250,000 or even $500,000 should be considered.

Carolla shared with elected officials and staffers how over 30 employees lost their jobs when her restaurant was forced to close after being hacked over the internet and losing customer credit card information. The credit card companies deducted tens of thousands of dollars in fees, fines and fraudulent use chargebacks from Bravo’s bank account. Carolla had just upgraded her cash register system to prevent such a loss and had been assured she was compliant with all current safeguards and requirements. Smaller businesses, not just restaurants, are currently being targeted because their computer systems typically do not have the expensive safeguard and firewalls larger chain stores can afford. Bravo is the third New Mexico restaurant to be fined for credit card theft this year.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, who is a co-sponsor of the Card Check bill, which would eliminate the private ballot in union elections, met with the group and said  the larger chain stores had not played fair in past elections to decide if employees want a union. He supported the bill because he felt federal regulators had not been fairly enforcing the rules. Senator Bingaman was called away for a telephone call about the bailout before he could respond.

The delegates also spoke about the upward pressure on prices for corn and corn related products caused by the seizure of 30% of the corn crop for conversion to ethanol fuel was also discussed. With less supply and more demand, food prices have risen steadily. With a guaranteed outlet, farmers of other crops have switched this year to corn, lowering those supplies and pushing those prices up as well. This effect is being felt worldwide since the US is a major exporter of corn and grains. While the goal of energy independence is worthy, there are some unintended consequences which must be addressed.

Nutritional labeling for restaurants in various forms and formats is being considered and debated across the country. NMRA delegates urged officials to consider the National Restaurant Association suggestion and adopt nationwide standards based on the existing labels for groceries. This would eliminate a hodge-podge of rules and regulations in various city, county and state health departments. Consumers like the labels, want the information available in restaurants and easily understand the meaning of the existing labels. Protections would have to be included since employee error like an extra pickle or smear of mayonnaise would alter the figures as would customer-initiated changes in cooking technique and additions. This law would only apply to, and for the most part is supported by, chains with 20 or more restaurants.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association’s mission is to empower the food and beverage industry by promoting and protecting common values and interests. It has more than 1,000 members in 111 cities all over New Mexico, who join together for meetings, seminars and the hospitality industry awards to honor the industry’s top achievers. It has actively represented and promoted the food service industry in New Mexico since 1946.