Last year business owners wondered if there were enough customers to support the labor, this year business owners wonder if there is enough labor to support the customers, said Chris Hickle, one of the owners of Tobies Restaurant and Bakery in Hinckley. While store hours are shortened to balance the customer needs with the employee shortage, the popular outside ice cream shop is closed until more employees are hired. Hickle said this is the first time that this has been an issue since the historic restaurant opened over 50 years ago.
Help wanted signs hang in windows across the country as businesses desperate for employees try to attract applicants.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Hickle.
Tara Kroon, co-owner of Doc’s Bar and Grill in both Askov and Sturgeon Lake with husband, Jimmy, agrees.
“We had a full staff before COVID-19,” Kroon said. She said they need to fill a variety of positions and tried offering perks such as a signing bonus, more vacation hours, and improved retirement benefits. After advertising on Indeed, Facebook and Craigslist, only two people applied.
“It’s horrible,” Kroon said.
An employee shortage is not the only problem for restaurants. Cost to do business has increased in the last year. From a drought induced produce shortage, a shortage of meat and even a shortage of fryer oil is driving prices up for businesses and customers. The cost of fryer oil alone has increased 60-70 percent in the last year. Kroon said it costs her $800 a week for fryer oil in her restaurants.
Both Kroon and Hickle speculate that ending the extra unemployment benefits could also help end their employee shortage.
Kroon said she recently talked to a friend in another state where the extra unemployment benefits will be ending soon. The friend said applicants flocked to the business and the positions were quickly filled.
Kroon and Hickle said they have shortened hours in order to retain employees and avoid burnout.
“I don’t even have enough staff to attend the job fair (in Moose Lake on Saturday, June 19) or the Fourth of July parade,” Kroon said.
Restaurants are not the only business looking for employees.
Jim and Sue Kielty own Complete Auto Diagnostics and Repair in Moose Lake. They were one of several businesses hoping to find employees at the Moose Lake Job Fair. They have several positions open, including service technicians and office help. One person applied for an office position at the job fair.
“We have a growing clientele base,” Jim said. “We’re growing very fast and we need to grow with it.” He said there is enough work at the shop to run two shifts.
Billie Jo Steen, superintendent of Moose Lake School District, was also at the fair, hoping to fill a few open positions as was the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
“We’re trying to conduct business as best as we can,” Hickle said.