Local restaurants still feel the effects of COVID as they struggle to find workers | News, Sports, Jobs
LOCK HAVEN – Clinton County has not been spared a national crisis.
“We hire” signs and banners are on windows and outside of businesses across America as restaurants and stores struggle to fill positions left vacant during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And Clinton County restaurants are no different because they also face the challenge of finding workers.
Many have adjusted schedules, even closing several days in a row due to low staff and difficulty getting people to fill positions.
For many, finding kitchen staff turns out to be their biggest challenge.
Restless Oaks in McElhattan, Creekside Restaurant in Mill Hall, and Broken Ax Brew House in Lock Haven are all looking for cooks.
âIdeally, we need five cooks and we don’t have five, we have two. And we need five of them to operate efficiently â, Lori Maguire said. Maguire owns and operates Restless Oaks with her husband Jim.
The restaurant was closed for almost a week, reopening on June 17, due to a lack of staff. And they will operate at limited hours Thursday through Sunday.
âWe advertised and the high school students came out in force. They were great in applying for jobs â, she said.
Unfortunately, these candidates are unable to fill the positions they desperately need, she continued.
At the Creekside restaurant, Donna Monoski and her co-owner Zach Moyer struggled to fill vacancies throughout the restaurant.
Monoski said Moyer worked in the kitchen at night to help keep things running while they looked for three full-time cooks.
âWe have three full-time and one part-time, then my partner. Zach cooks in the evenings every night just to keep the place going â, Monoski said.
Creekside began closing on Tuesday to give current employees a break and gave overtime, Monoski said. She noted that her waitress manager works double on Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes stays all day on Sundays to make sure the restaurant has enough staff to manage.
Nick Hawrylchak, owner of Broken Ax, said finding kitchen staff has been a real challenge since January. Since the start of the year, he has been able to hire a part-time kitchen worker.
âWe ended up getting part of one of our cooking jobs, but I started in January (and) used Indeed and Facebook and every other resource I could think of. It took about four months â, said Hawrylchak.
To alleviate some of the pressure on its staff, the Broken Ax is closed on Mondays.
In total, Hawrylchak said he had five full-time and six part-time employees before the pandemic. âRight now we have four full-time employees and the rest are part-time. Part-time is a bit more restrictive so even though I have roughly the same numbers they cannot cover the same number of hours â, said Hawrylchak.
The limited hours of part-time employees are also an issue at Creekside, Monoski said.
At century-old Texas Lunch, owner Phil Anastos said he needs around 14 to 15 employees to run the restaurant well. He currently has nine employees and has slightly adjusted his hours six days a week.
“I try to take care of them and also not to burn them” said Anastos.
In the eyes of these employers, additional unemployment benefits paid to the unemployed during the pandemic appear to be a driver of this labor shortage.
Lori and Jim believe that one of the reasons for this problem is unemployment compensation and the extra amount paid.
Monoski also believes this is the case, noting that Creekside has received calls from people asking for information they can place in the unemployment system to show that they have applied for jobs, without actually filling out an application.
Anastos and Hawrylchak agree to some extent, but also believe that there are other factors involved.
âI am thinking of unemployment, but I also have the impression that they have kicked out a lot of workers from the industry. Many have changed jobs â, said Anastos.
Hawrylchak also believes that many employees left the restaurant industry during the pandemic, but noted other possible reasons behind the shortage of workers in the region.
âI think everything is complicated and nuanced. There is certainly an impact with unemployment, which people needed, so I am not criticizing it â, he said.
Hawrylchak referred to part-time mothers leaving their workplaces during the pandemic and at Lock Haven University where more than half of its student body remains remote as other factors.
“I don’t blame anything” he said.
It has also been a challenge for local restaurants to compete with chains and large companies that offer sign-up bonuses or increase their starting salaries.
“Competition like Walmart pays a lot more money”, Jim Maguire said.
Monoski believes that the imbalance between small businesses and corporations is bad. Many like Creekside are unable to compete with increased hourly rates while keeping their heads above water.
âI don’t think it’s fair that these companies offer these incentives because it’s just hard for everyone. It’s a competition â, she said.
Anastos said he hasn’t reached a point where he needs to consider changing his rate of pay.
Hawrylchak said he is constantly evaluating his rate of pay.
âI was pretty aggressive with my pay scales. I always felt I was in a fair enough place. I have certainly evaluated all of this and evaluated my staff to make sure that my current staff are respected in this sense â, he said.
In the years that these restaurateurs have been in the business, they have never seen such a shortage of manpower.
âI’ve always had a pretty humble stack of applicants before this. So this four or five month research is definitely new. And even before, when I was in charge, I had never really experienced this lack of candidates â, said Hawrylchak.
Lori simply responded with “never” when asked about Restless Oaks for nearly 40 years in business.
The same could be said for Creekside, according to Monoski. She and Moyer ran the restaurant for seven years after taking it over from the Aungst family.
For these restaurants, the future of their business can be a bit uncertain given the current situation.
Lori and Jim would like to bring the Restless Oaks program back to normal, but don’t know when they can.
âA lot of our clients are seniors and it’s their socialization. We kind of have a hard time with that and let them down â, Lori said.
âWe would love to come back and take care of them, but I don’t want to do this halfway. We want to do it right â, Jim added.
If the worker shortage persists, Monoski said Creekside would more than likely have to shut down another day or cut back hours.
âEspecially if we lose other cooks. There is no way we can follow. It is overwhelming for everyone. Monoski said.
Anastos said he had considered what the options might be for Texas, but preferred not to discuss them.
Hawrylchak hopes the industry eventually returns to the standard.
âI think it’s going to be stressfulâ¦ it’s not going to be suddenly hundreds of positions filled. Every restaurant is looking for people, so it won’t be a quick fix â, he said. âBut I think everything will be fine. We have great people who have been loyal and have kept us going. “