The simultaneous rush to ramp up restaurant re-openings to full capacity has stacked the odds against all the smaller independent restaurants. With thousands of restaurants hiring, it’s a buyer’s market. Unemployment checks are allowing others to stave off returning to work, while larger chains, and those attached to hotels, can offer higher wages and better benefits to would-be staff. With vaccines rolling out, the demand to dine out has increased – but small independent restaurants like Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery [Arlington, Virginia] and Cured [San Antonio, Texas] as well as small restaurant groups like the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group [New Orleans, Louisiana] find it difficult to service the demand with no new staff, no job applications, and job fairs with no one showing up.
Arlington, Virginia | Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery was amongst the first chefs to go rogue to feed his community, providing free meals to students and their families beginning March 17, 2020. Chef Guas continues, to this day, to serve meals to families in need – over 132,000 meals shared, all starting from this 42-seat countertop eatery. But, like many other small restaurant owners, Guas is struggling to maintain the staff needed to operate and continue serving his community. Bayou Bakery has already lost two pastry chefs in less than two months. The camaraderie, respect, and loyalty amongst chefs is quickly dissipating – small restaurants workers and chefs are consistently being sought out and “poached” with offers of more money and better benefits from larger establishments. Independent restaurants simply cannot afford to compete – as a result, understaffed chefs like Guas are working around the clock and still unable to recoup lost revenue.
San Antonio, Texas | For Chef Steve McHugh, whose award-winning restaurant, Cured, takes its name in part from his triumph over cancer, challenges have always been opportunity to find solutions. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In mid-March 2021, when the state of Texas suddenly allowed 100% capacity seating in restaurants and bars, McHugh was blindsided by the expectation of others that reopening fully in the midst of a pandemic was that simple. So, the five-time James Beard Award finalist, was forced to adjust – not operating to its full potential. Given the intense competition for new employees, McHugh and his team continue to operate at an approximately 25% staff level with no prospective employees seeking a job. Cured was forced to reduce menu offerings with only a quarter of its pre-pandemic staff. Then the catch – maintain an uncompromising standard, all the while food critics, bloggers, and others begin to make judgements on your service and food options. How do you succeed in the eyes of the public?
New Orleans, Louisiana | Ralph Brennan, the third-generation scion of the famous Brennan New Orleans restaurant family and president of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group [RBRG,] is the first New Orleans citizen to be on the governing board of the Culinary Institute of America and served as the past chairman of the National Restaurant Association, the Louisiana Restaurant Association, and the New Orleans Restaurant Association. Now, with New Orleans restaurants at 75% capacity indoors – RBRG is unable to staff to its fullest for its five restaurants within the city accordingly. Seeking to fill 60 positions at a recent job fair for potential new employees resulted in only one applicant to be present. If unable to generate any interest within the city and its surrounding areas, RBRG may turn to the J-1 Visa program which offers work placement for up to one year as part of a non-immigrant, cultural exchange offering hospitality training to those residing outside of the U.S.