Businesses in Summit County face worker shortage
On the door of the Woodland Biscuit Company is a sign stating the business is cutting back its operations from five days a week to two. One does not need to speculate about the reason because it is written.
Due to an inability to “find and hire enough staff to provide a reliable quality experience,” the Woodland restaurant is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. until further notice.
This is not the first sign announcing shortened hours residents of the Wasatch Back have seen this year. Fast food restaurants in Heber City had to close early a few weeks ago because of a lack of staff, and Einstein’s Bagels off Bonanza Drive was facing a similar problem around the same time. For many small businesses, cutting hours is a last resort, but it is one more are coming to as they face the challenges accompanied by low unemployment rates throughout the state.
Bill Malone, president and chief executive officer of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said Park City businesses have identified hiring as one of the toughest challenges for several years.
“Many businesses have gone through entire seasons with numerous jobs unfilled,” he said.
That was the case last winter, as companies struggled to fill positions in the busiest time of the year.
In the past, Park City businesses combated the problem by offering higher wages than positions in the Salt Lake Valley, Malone said. People used to be willing to drive up the canyon for those wages, but low unemployment and lots of job openings in the Wasatch Front make it possible for workers to be picky.
Expensive housing in the Park City area is one of the causes most people point to for the workforce problem. Malone said some of the larger employers provide employee housing to give them a leg up, but small businesses can’t compete. Instead, they have to be creative in the perks they offer, such as transportation subsidies or end-of-season bonuses.
Laurel Bartmess, owner of Woodland Biscuit Company, can attest. Her restaurant is located an hour from Salt Lake City.
“I don’t even get anyone that applies for the positions that I need,” she said. “It became so bare bones that I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Currently, she is down a dishwasher, a position she has tried to fill for a year and a half, and a handful of cook positions. Her main cook recently left because he was overworked. The restaurant has been shorthanded for so long that he and Bartmess were working double.
A large part of her staff now is teenagers who are only able to work on weekends, she said.
The hiring problem makes Bartmess feel as if her business is stagnant. She wants to be able to expand her hours and offer pizza cooked in the pizza oven she has in the back of the restaurant, but she has not been able to fire it up. She is too busy in the kitchen.
Ben Farquharson, owner of Clockwork Café, knows the struggle of holding back on offerings because of low staff. He closed his original location at Silver Summit for two years to focus on growing his second eatery at the Tanger Outlets. Both locations are now open, and Farquharson has added a third. Hiring has become something Farquharson knows is almost always going to be difficult.
He said it is just part of owning a business in Park City, which is why he never takes a break from trying to build his team.
“We always have open positions,” he said.
Gabe Morin, owner of the Mirror Lake Diner in Kamas, said hiring difficulties are something he has come to accept as well. He knows he has to offer pay that is competitive with Park City restaurants. He knows that year-end bonuses help keep people around. And he knows when his employees have reached their limits and need a rest.
All over the area, he sees “No hiring” signs. But he has not had to put one up for a while because he works hard to keep his employees. Still, he knows that, given the rising cost of living in Summit County, enticing people to stay when they can’t afford to live in town is going to be a large obstacle. Until servers and chefs are able to afford living in town or unemployment rises, Morin, and other restaurant owners, say the hiring struggle is just a factor of owning a business they will continue to tackle however they can.
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.