Bazookys’ last local restaurant closed as worker shortage presses restaurants

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MUNCIE, Ind. – Chris Divine’s culinary adventure on South Walnut Street ended on Friday as his restaurant Bazookys served his latest orange pancake. He closed the restaurant to accept a “more lucrative” job offer by working for someone other than himself.

Many factors contributed to his decision to lock the doors to Bazookys, he said. But the persistent labor shortage was part of the “great stress” of running his own business.

“Nobody wanted to do anything,” he said. And finding someone with any work ethic was “very rare”.

When much of the economy came to a standstill when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the unemployment rate in the Muncie metropolitan statistical area soared to 16%, according to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics -United. After more than a year of the pandemic, unemployment fell to a preliminary figure of 4.7% in July.

Owner Chris Divine at his Bazooky's restaurant on the last day before the establishment closes, Friday, September 3, 2021. Divine said his difficulty finding and retaining employees contributed to his restaurant's closure .

As much of the economy has adapted to COVID-19, low-wage jobs in the service sector have lost much of their appeal.

“My hunch is that employers are struggling to adapt to a world in which they cannot be so demanding,” said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University.

He said about 5 million people have left the U.S. workforce since the start of the pandemic.

Hicks said he planned to predict a return to normal as COVID-19 appeared to decline earlier in the year. But a continued spike in cases in recent weeks has been a game-changer.

Child care is one of the main reasons people choose to stay at home, he said.

The problem is probably not so much about work ethics, Hicks said, noting that business people have complained about the work ethic of the workforce for over 100 years.

Because low wages often barely cover child care costs and the growing potential for distance from schools as the pandemic continues, parents choose to be home and with children when they are. can.

“Companies need to be more willing to be flexible, to be more agile, and to offer terms that employees care about,” Hicks said.

Some of Divine’s days as a restaurant owner were spent working alone, entirely alone, from 5.30am to 9pm. He did everything, he said, including cooking, serving, washing dishes, and handling cash register transactions.

Bazooky's on Walnut Street closed permanently on Friday, September 3, 2021. Owner Chris Divine said difficulty finding and retaining staff contributed to the closure.

Recruiting quality employees for Bazookys has proven to be a persistent and confusing task; he found some but it was a constant struggle. The labor shortage that plagued Muncie and much of the country also put pressure on his business.

“Even now I don’t have enough help,” he said on the eve of the closing.

Divine admits he was “picky” about who he hired. “They were never what you hoped for,” he said of those who showed up for the interviews. And potential employees were also picky; “I always felt like I was the one interviewed,” he said of the experience.

Divine noted that he did better by hiring people he was related to, such as having common friends or acquaintances. The level of engagement seemed higher.

On Thursday afternoon, the mayor of Muncie, Dan Ridenour, returned from lunch to his office at town hall. He had gone to a drive-through restaurant in town and discovered a chain district manager taking his order at the drive-thru window.

Ridenour said the manager told him the dining room was closed, not because of COVID but because he didn’t have enough staff to keep the dining room open.

And the labor shortage is also hitting the city government.

Bazooky's on Walnut Street closed permanently on Friday, September 3, 2021. Owner Chris Divine said difficulty finding and retaining staff contributed to the closure.

“It has been terrible,” Ridenour said, citing shortages in parks and street services.

Even particularly high-paying positions are difficult to fill, the police department has 11 fewer employees than budgeted, and the fire department has lost five positions. The city hired outside recruiting firms to help it fill professional jobs.

One thing that is not responsible for the workforce issues, according to Hicks, has been the additional unemployment benefits provided during the pandemic. States that continued to offer the additional benefits actually saw job growth compared to states, like Indiana, which ended the additional benefits earlier.

He said studies have repeatedly shown that temporary benefits have little impact on people’s choice to go to work.

And places that had economic problems before the pandemic, with problems like low wages and low education of the workforce, still have those problems, he said. But potential workers find other ways to get jobs that meet their needs.

“Nobody wants to work”:Why are companies struggling to find workers?

During the 30-day period that ended Aug. 21, Hicks said, 3,781 advertisements were shown to all media in the Muncie area with work-from-home offers. Some jobs were for brokers, doing repair work and a variety of fields allowing people to do the work from their homes. He calculated that about 10 percent of those ads were closed because they were filled and that about 94 of those jobs likely went to people in the Muncie area.

Hicks said those looking for work should review the company and its location before accepting a job. He has experience in trying to hire people to come and work at Ball State in Muncie.

It’s very difficult, he said, to hire people to work in a place or community that they don’t naturally want to be in, and employers should expect job postings to be a big deal. two-way street. “I never feel like it’s a gift,” he said.

David Penticuff is the local government reporter for the Star Press. Contact him at [email protected]


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