Local restaurants see staffing shortage as business booms

CHICO, Calif. – Employers across the country are reporting an unexpected problem – no workers to fill job openings.

Restaurants in Chico are no exception to this hurdle businesses are facing.

Danielle Ius, owner of Sin of Cortez in Chico told Action News Now that it has been a challenge finding people to hire for months now.

The majority of her employees that left at the start of the pandemic, fortunately, did come back to work, but they lost a big batch of student workers.

“This is something I never ever imagined being an issue in a college town that is now an issue,” said Ius.

Other restaurant owners Ius talks with tell her that they are facing the same challenges of finding workers as they try to reopen.

“When you see restaurants closed multiple days a week, it’s not by choice in my opinion,” said Ius. “It’s because they literally don’t have enough employees to be open seven days a week. It’s just, we can’t do it. There’s not enough people.”

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Ius said her restaurant pre-pandemic would sometimes see thirty applicants in just a day, now they have had three in just three months.

Phil Feser from Rush Personnel in Chico told Action News now that it is a combination of many things contributing to this staffing shortage.

“There are people on unemployment relief, others still more comfortable staying at home and a huge amount of the student population is nonexistent right now,” said Feser.

A “now hiring” sign sits on the sidewalk in front of Upper Crust Bakery in downtown Chico.

The owner of the bakery, Jeff Plummer, told Action News Now that he has been able to fill two of six available spots in just two months.

It is not getting any easier to find bakers and cake decorators, making it a full team effort to keep things going.

“If one department is short, we all kind of move around,” said Plummer. “I am the owner and I am working in the kitchen today. I love being out here talking to customers, but I am making salads and sandwiches for the customers. We all bounce around and help each other until the positions fill.”

Plummer added that they are not struggling, but it has been a challenge to meet the high volume of wedding cakes that are now rolling in.

RELATED: Business struggling to find new employee during reopening

They did close shop for just six weeks at the very beginning of the pandemic, and of that pre-shutdown staff, about 95% have returned.

Around the block, Smokin’ Mo’s BBQ told Action News Now that they are doing great with hiring front-of-the-house staff, but are not having as much luck with cooks in the kitchen.

Jill Mcleod, owner of the BBQ said that things are actually more stressful than they were a year ago.

“We are actually thinking about having to reduce our hours or cut back a little bit on our opening time because we just don’t have enough people to cover all the shifts right now,” said Mcleod.

With the Downtown Market coming to Chico soon, Mcleod is not sure if they will be able to keep both the restaurant and truck that they operate open.

She thinks the cause of their short kitchen staff is largely due to unemployment and people feel like work is just an option.

Over the past year, Mcleod has had to shut down the restaurant and lay people off two times, and this is how they lost a lot of their kitchen staff.

Despite this lack of workers, The U.S. Labor Department reports that unemployment rates continue to fluctuate.

As of March 2021, Butte County’s unemployment rate was at 7.5%, which is an improvement from the 7.7% rate in February 2021.

This does topple the year-ago estimate of a 6.1% unemployment rate.

These local restaurant owners told Action News Now they are happy to see business bustling again, but could still use some extra hands to better serve customers.