(Update: adding video, new info, comments from restaurant owner, food truck manager)
Owner of Sidelines Bar & Grill on Wall Street says they have fewer than half desired number of cooks
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Looser COVID-19 restrictions have led to customers filling the seats inside restaurants once again. In fact, many restaurants, such as the Sidelines Bar & Grill in downtown Bend, are seeing a spike in revenue better than before the pandemic.
However, many of those same restaurants are also struggling to feed all of those hungry customer, due to a shortage of cooks across the region, part of a broader, record hiring squeeze.
"Tell me when you're coming in, ready to start working as a cook for me,” Sidelines Owner Trevor Kalberg joked with a customer on Tuesday.
Although it’s not much of a joke.
"Cooks right now are the biggest problem in town,” Kalberg told NewsChannel 21. “I know a lot of the different restaurants are even having to shut down a couple days a week right now, because they're not able to field a full kitchen staff."
In a perfect world, Kalberg would like to have 15 cooks on staff. Right now, they have seven. On Tuesday, they only had one to serve the entire lunch crowd.
"He’s working 10 hours of overtime this week, just so he can keep it going,” Kalberg said, referring to his lone cook.
That's even forced Kalberg himself to step back into the kitchen, for the first time since 2008.
“Which I'm always happy to do for our customers,” he said. “However, I'd rather not."
Fewer cooks means fewer options. The original dinner menu at Sidelines Bar & Grill is a few pages long, with more than 80 items to choose from. The restaurant's current dinner menu has been reduced to one page, with just 14 items.
Sidelines does offer competitive pay, at $18 an hour, plus tips. So if that's the case, why is this happening?
Kalberg said there are a few reasons: Some people are making that same amount while sitting at home through unemployment benefits, current wages don't match the housing market, and, food trucks are stealing some of the talent.
However, that last reason was shot down by Justin Halvorsen, Barrio's food truck manager. He said they're having struggles of their own.
"We definitely have our own issues with the food carts and finding staff,” Halvorsen said. “We're super-excited about having the customers back, but there's that little bit of -- we don't know what we're getting into.”
Well, what they’re getting into is a busy summer season. To deal with that, Kalberg and Halvorsen are preaching patience to their customers.