WOODMERE, Ohio — Restaurants continue to find themselves short-staffed, a new problem that many have had to deal with since asking employees to leave when the COVID-19 pandemic first started.
“I couldn’t believe things were going to actually close. Then one night, I laid off 80+ employees,” said Mike Frazin, who runs two Original Pancake House locations in Greater Cleveland. “We felt bad because we were taking away peoples livelihoods and we were afraid because we thought we’d lose our business.
Frazin and his wife have run the Original Pancake House in Woodmere since 2004, and a second location in Fairview Park since 2008. The pandemic abruptly threatened more than 15 years of hard work.
“I think people had an idea it was coming,” recalled Frazin. “But it makes you sick because these employees are like our family. Some of these people are our dearest friends. Most of the people that work here have been here for years.”
Fortunately, there’s a silver lining… thanks to government grants and dedicated customers, Frazin has been able to stay afloat. At times, he is posting better numbers than in 2019. But it’s not the same business he got into – carryout, not by choice, leads the way and helped keep his business alive despite his personal feeling that the food is much better when eaten in the dining room.
Frazin said jokingly, “I go to bed at night, and I lay down, and when I pray – I pray that we’ll stop carryout.” He says it with laughter, but in a way he’s serious.
Carryout business, is a catch-22 of sorts: it brings in much needed revenue, but also steals from the resources needed to successfully run dine-in service – ultimately leading to employee burnout. At both locations, Frazin is still looking to hire more people, although the pool to choose from is thin at best.
Frazin said, “we can’t open our restaurant full yet because we don’t have enough employees.”
For months he couldn’t find a manager despite offering higher pay and full benefits. And he’s still short on servers today. Restaurant workers simply aren’t willing to deal with what has become a much more stressful work environment.
Valerie Schultz has been a faithful employee and manager at Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza for 8 and a half years.
“Almost everybody that worked here is working 6 days a week. A lot of long hours,” she said.
Despite her love for the job, just last week, she reluctantly called it quits.
“I still love taking care of people. It’s just… it’s a totally different world than it was a year and a half ago,” she said after working through most the pandemic
And she’s not alone. The leisure and hospitality industry leads the way with a 5.3% quit rate – it’s workers leaving for industries with more flexibility and less stress.
Sometimes the work-life balance is a little more important than the monetary. Just to breathe and be happy again.
The exodus from the restaurant industry has forced owners and managers to get creative – increasing pay, changing hours, adjusting worker responsibility and even hiring job candidates on the spot.
“If you look right now, everywhere is a now hiring sign. And every business, everywhere i drive i see signs,” said Frazin, who has a sign of his own posted in the vestibule to his restaurant.
Despite the issues with staffing and the changing restaurant landscape, those who remain in the industry continue to push ahead. They’re grateful the sign on the door still says ‘open’ as more than 3,000 Ohio restaurants have been forced to close as a result of the pandemic. Each day, the restaurants that are left welcome more and more customers.
For Frazin, it’s the customers that make the job most enjoyable.
“They know what’s going on and they’re patient with us. So I’m thankful,” he said with a smile. “Just really awesome to see your restaurant come back to life."
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