By Colleen Sparks
Restaurants in North Central and around the state are struggling to find employees to stay afloat as customers are flooding their businesses now that COVID-19 vaccines are readily available.
The owners of several eateries say they had to lay off several workers, cut their hours and shrink the number of items on their menus earlier in the pandemic as state restrictions placed on restaurants caused huge losses of revenue. While they were able to bring back many employees after the state allowed restaurants to resume in-person dining, they say some workers chose to pursue other careers, return to school or stay home.
Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said since many people have been able to get their COVID-19 vaccines in recent months, restaurants around the state have become much busier.
“We have people (employees) that decided to go into a different profession altogether,” Chucri said. “Some moved out of state or got a degree. Gratefully we’re starting to see that level out and that our workforce is getting stronger and stronger.”
Around Arizona, about 1,200 restaurants closed and eateries saw about $2.75 billion dollars in lost sales last year, Chucri said.
North Mountain Brewing Company at 522 E. Dunlap Ave. had to close temporarily and offer only drinks for a few months because of the pandemic. Candy Frogozo-Berkner, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Robert Berkner, said her father died of COVID-19 and she caught the virus. Several of the employees the restaurant has hired have walked out, resigning without giving any notice, as they were overwhelmed by the huge numbers of customers, Frogozo-Berkner said.
“It’s been hard for us,” Frogozo-Berkner said. “There are nights that I cry and pray. I’m working 70 hours a week.”
She said she was planning to hire at least seven people, including servers, cooks and a manager, as of press time. North Mountain Brewing Company also decided to be closed on Tuesdays until the owners can hire more cooks. To learn more about North Mountain Brewing Company, visit www.northmountainbrewing.com. Anyone interested in applying for a job should visit the restaurant in person.
Justin Beckett, chef and co-owner of Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail restaurants said both eateries had to release several employees earlier in the pandemic, but some servers stayed to help deliver food to customers curbside. The restaurants had to reduce their hours as they deal with a staff shortage.
“We tried to offer people positions that wanted to stay but there weren’t enough positions for everyone,” Beckett said. “Right now we’re having a very large challenge finding industry-level employees to come back and run our restaurants.”
He said he is looking for line cooks, prep cooks, sous chefs and servers. Anyone interested in applying for positions can visit Beckett’s Table at 3717 E. Indian School Road or Southern Rail at 300 W. Camelback Road.
Carole Meyer Zookz, owner of ZOOKZ Sandwiches, had to close the downtown location of her restaurant permanently due to decreased customers because of the pandemic. She temporarily closed the ZOOKZ eatery at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport but plans to reopen it. Meyer Zookz plans to open a new location at 32nd Street and Camelback Road in a few months and is looking for employees to work there. The location at 100 E. Camelback Road has stayed busy as she set up a window for customers to pick up orders.
“It’s very, very difficult,” Meyer Zookz said. “I think people just developed different habits during the pandemic. They’re used to working more flexible jobs.”
Anyone interested in applying for a job at ZOOKZ can visit www.zookzsandwiches.com.
The staffing situation is better at Aunt Chilada’s restaurant at 7330 N. Dreamy Draw Drive. This family-owned restaurant is fully staffed but will always consider good employees who apply for jobs. A few employees stayed on when the pandemic began and the rest of the workers were placed on furlough. The restaurant provided curbside pick-up food on Sundays, giving proceeds and tips to its employees. Most of the employees who were on furlough returned after business picked up again, said Tiffany Allison, who is a managing partner of the restaurant, along with her sister, Michele Woods.
Allison and Woods and their parents, Candice and Ken Nagel, who own the restaurant, work hard to retain employees, paying them above minimum wage and offering health insurance. Ken has loaned employees money for college tuition.
“Our dad truly, truly takes care of people,” Allison said. “We empower people.”
“Overall we’ve been really fortunate,” Woods added.
To learn more about Aunt Chilada’s, visit www.auntchiladas.com.