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Facing labor setbacks, restaurants look to Texas A&M's upcoming fall semester

Posted at 5:57 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 18:57:11-04

BRYAN, TEXAS — Just when business owners in Bryan-College Station thought this would be a time of recovering and rebounding, some owners say, they don't know if things will ever get back to the way they once were, but they certainly hope they do.

Hiring challenges continue to loom over the Bryan-College Station foodservice industry and many are adjusting operations to keep going.

"We have been kicking the can down the road as best as we can. At some point, it all comes to a head. We are seeing the ramifications of it all now," Bryan business owner, Wade Beckman shared with KRHD 25 News.

From limiting capacities and closures to supply and pricing issues, now staffing shortages take the front seat.

"Staffing has been hard. It's been hard from the beginning, but you needed so few staff members, and then we light up really quick when the Governor made some announcements and the labor pool hasn't caught back up," Beckman added. "I think it's a combination of things. It's not any one item."

With doors allowed to swing wide open, owners still grapple with a shortage of workers to operate their businesses. Something this Bryan business owner hasn't been faced within his 12 years of ownership.

"We've made all kinds of changes definitely in increases in labor and hourly wages. Our folks expect more. They can make more in other places. Being creative... using different employees at different businesses... cross training...kind of anything and everything to get us through this spring." Beckman added. "Summertime you have a lot of folks and staff that leave, so I think most restaurants are ok to fare over the summer, but looking at fall is where we start to get scared."

Beckman says he still has a few missing shifts, but most of his hours are back to normal. "We have a couple of restaurants on the slower shifts that we knew weren't going to come back full force, as of yet. We still have the same labor needs and increases with those labor needs as things continue to open up and people get out more and more often. "

Beckman says challenges are within different roles throughout all three of his restaurants, Shipwreck Grill, Amico Nave, and 3rd on Main kitchen.

"As students come back hopefully more and more people on campus, because of less online classes, we hope will bring us to a normal end to the summer where we need to so many people for the fall and that's our fear right now," Beckman added.

"We are going to have to hire 20-25 people minimum between our restaurants alone to go into a full football season, usually those folks come back and it's natural everyone coming to town looking for a job people changing jobs, people moving to town... if those things don't happen there are going to be challenges for all restaurants. If they happen as they have in the past, we should be ok," Beckman said.

Another restaurant owner who says hiring workers is a struggle that remains is Vancene Farinola, owner of Frittella Italian Cafe in Bryan.

"We thought the pandemic was going to do it to us... Now it's the lack of staff. We have had to close an extra day during the week because of that as well," Farinola said. "The first 15 years or so we were able to keep our student employees practically their entire college career and nowadays it's 2 or 3 months and they are gone."

Farinola says they have been operating in Bryan for nearly 19 years and says she currently has 0 servers and if that doesn't change soon, she may be forced to stop dine-in and only offer take-out.

"Because there is no way I can handle it all myself... I can have my kitchen help take food out, but they are busy making the food... but that's the challenges we are having right now," Farinola added.

Farinola says all of a sudden in the last 2-3 months, its been hard to keep wait staff. "Our kitchen staff, we have had no problem keeping, they are loyal and hardworking," Farinola said.

Another business owner, who is seeing lingering effects of pandemic hiring challenges, is Taco Bar in College Station.

"We are really looking forward to fall semester coming in hoping it can be a return to what we experienced prior to COVID where you have a full football season and all the students back. I heard last week they are expected 70,000 enrolled students, so that's exciting" Rolando Gonzalez, owner of Taco Bar said.

Gonzalez says as we get closer to fall, building their staff back up is their main focus, as they depend on students for business and for staff.

"We increased our wages... added tips... added more hours for our staff... Just trying to find a good combination where the restaurant is still profitable and staff is happy." Gonzalez said.

Right now, Taco Bar is fully open, but when they are short-staffed, they adjust.

"However, whenever we are short-staffed we will close our doors and just go drive-thru only, just to be able to fully execute orders and have people as fast as we can and keep our wait time low," Gonzalez said. "It's been a challenge, but we are working on it and we are sure we will be able to successfully manage it as fall semester starts."

All three business owners in this story say they are hiring and to inquire within.