As cooks and servers hustled to get pancakes and omelettes to tables and to-go boxes at the Oak Table Café earlier this week, general manager Bill Zuzich said he couldn’t quite pinpoint one reason why he’s seeing a shortage of employees.
“A lot of people left the food industry because of uncertainty, or people used their down time in the pandemic to go back to school,” he said.
This summer marked the first time in three decades the restaurant wasn’t open seven days a week. However, Zuzich hopes to soon have enough staff to reopen fully after periods of time at five, and six days a week open.
That includes bringing back a lunch menu tentatively at the end of September, as Zuzich said, “it takes a whole other cook to do that, too.”
But the Oak Table Café isn’t alone in longstanding practices changing. Of Sequim’s 60-plus restaurants and coffee shops, more than half are hiring.
Dozens have changed their hours — closing entire days or trimming some hours off — or they’ve built on efforts from last year to keep people coming through the door by offering to-go options and/or outdoor, covered seating areas.
Bret Wirta, owner of Black Bear Diner, said they’ve been temporarily closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays as they seek out more cooks.
On the bright side, he said, “we are planning on beginning to at least be open for take-out only on Tuesday and Wednesday beginning the last week in September.”
Some, like Angee Garcia, co-owner of Jose’s Famous Salsa, say the business has been lucky through the pandemic with staffing. She’s kept 13 part-time and full-time employees on staff the last year-plus.
“We’ve seen some turnover, but we make it work,” she said. “All of our employees are really awesome. If not for them, then I’d be struggling.”
Dominique Hall, owner of Rainshadow Café, said she’s always hiring, and since the pandemic, her business has gotten busier. With school starting back up, she lost four employees to go off for college, and now she’s seen her employee demographic become younger.
“It’s usually people in their 20s and now it’s 18 or 19,” Hall said.
Why the shift? She feels there’s been a “huge shift” in people moving away or coming here, and “because of the pandemic, people want to get out of the big cities or come closer to their families.”
Some business owners hope there may be an uptick in employment following the end of COVID-19-based benefits for unemployed workers earlier this month.
Cindy Lee, co-owner of Moon Palace, said like others her business has a staff shortage in the kitchen and it’s led her to close the bar.
“Maybe it could change with unemployment out,” she said. But even hiring teens as dishwashers has been difficult in recent years, Lee added.
Since the vaccine mandate went in place on Sept. 4 for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in Clallam County to eat in bars and restaurants, Lee said she’s seen a dip in overall business with a slight increase in takeout orders but not enough to offset the dip.
As for her interactions with people about the vaccination cards, she says, “some people are nice, and some are not, which makes it very difficult.”
“Some have their card ready, and some not,” she said. “I tell them, ‘We didn’t set the rules.’ It’s very difficult for business owners. It’s been tough during this pandemic.
“I hope people understand that and show some respect.”
Val Culp, co-owner of the Old Mill Café, said she’s had to change her hours a few times in recent months as she’s currently using a two-hour window on Tuesday-Thursday afternoons for prep time as she seeks staff too.
She said they are checking vaccine cards, but offer covered, outside seating as an alternative.
“We’re trying to offer different options,” Culp said.
As to why she checks, Culp said she has a health condition, and she’s concerned for older clientele.
Editor’s notes: For interviews with business owners/managers for hours and services, they were not asked if they check for vaccination proof. Gazette staff felt it more appropriate to see how residents can generally support them whether eating inside, outside or via takeout.
We’ve reached out to as many restaurants and places as possible, and ask for any omissions, expanded services, future hour changes be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com.