Valley Breeze

The North Providence Breeze 03-31-2021

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH PROVIDENCE EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | MARCH 31-APRIL 6, 2021 THE VALLEY 21 "I need more help. Summertime's coming, I need to add to my staff," she said. Prior to the pandemic, she said, the restaurant typically employed between 25 and 30 staff members. Now, she said, she has about 19, including many part-time employ- ees with other jobs. Dumas said she's advertised jobs online, in newspapers and through word of mouth, but she's unable to find enough employees to return to pre-pandemic hours and business levels. The problem is so bad, she said, she can't open the restaurant's patio, even with demand from cus- tomers and last weekend's warm weather. "I've got new chairs, tables, heat- ers out there, but nobody to wait on them," she said. Dumas blames it on the $300 weekly unemployment that was extended to Sept. 6 in the latest federal stimulus package. For many former employees, she said, it's not worth it to return to work when they know the benefit will last through the summer months. At the same time, she said, busi- ness is picking up as people receive their stimulus payments and feel comfortable returning to indoor din- ing. "I can't keep up. I've never worked so hard in all my life. I'm 70 years old," she said. Many business owners around northern Rhode Island reported similar challenges this week. Peter Kakisis, owner of Pawtucket House of Pizza, said he's been unable to find additional employees since last April. "People don't want to work. They're afraid. They get more money not working," he said. "... We don't get anybody." Kristine Teto, owner of Tumblesalts Cafe, said the North Providence restaurant is having trouble hiring seasonal employees as they prepare for their summer rush. The restaurant, she said, has opened its back patio and is already getting calls about summer events. "It's like we waited all this time for this opportunity, and here it is where we can start to get a little bit of our business built back up, and we don't have the staff to do it that we did originally," she said. Teto attributed the difficulty to a variety of factors, including unem- ployment benefits and employees not feeling comfortable returning to a job where they interact with the public. While some dedicated employees have remained with them throughout the pandemic, she said, others decided not to return after being laid off. The pool of sea- sonal candidates, she said, is not as wide as it usually is. "There's no people to add. They're just not there," she said. Phil Giguere, chef and owner of Adeline's in Cumberland, said he's been hiring since the restaurant began to reopen to in-person din- ing last year but can't get enough staff to return to pre-pandemic hours. Before the pandemic, he said, the business was open from 11:30 in the morning until 1 a.m. Now, they're open from 3 to 10 p.m. most days. "So that takes a little over a third of a day away from me," he said. "I haven't been open for lunch at all any day but Sunday." With more employees, he said, he thinks he'd be able to bring in about 85 percent of the revenue he had prior to COVID-19. He used to rely on Facebook posts to bring in new employees but now can't even find part-time dishwashers, he said. "It's always worked for me for the six years that I've been here. And now, I'm even paying for Indeed and I'm not even getting people that I wouldn't hire." In Woonsocket, Fazzini's and Champs Diner owner Bethany Marsland said the restaurants are facing the double challenges of an employee shortage and continued restrictions on dining. While the state recently expanded indoor dining capacity to 66 percent, Marsland said the 6-foot require- ment between tables means she's unable to reach that capacity at Fazzini's. "Nobody's applying. They're all collecting unemployment, there's no way to fight that. There's noth- ing anybody can do," she said. "I spend $100 a week on Indeed, and nobody applies or if they do apply, they don't show up for the inter- view." Marsland said she's currently scheduling reservations based on how much staff she has on any given day. Sarah Bratko, senior vice presi- dent of advocacy and general coun- sel for the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, said they've been hear- ing for several months of employee shortages at restaurants and hotels. She said there are several reasons behind the problem, including unemployment benefits and restric- tions on public transportation and childcare as a result of COVID-19. "It's becoming more apparent because restaurants are starting to build up capacity again," she said. "Back in January, when we were still operating under the pause rule, there wasn't as much need for staff." During the pandemic, she said, the Department of Labor and Training loosened a requirement that people look for work in order to collect employment. The depart- ment, she said, is currently looking into when to reinstate those require- ments, which should help the issue. "I think as we open up more and the vaccine becomes more preva- lent and things normalize a little bit, we expect it to improve," she said. At the same time, she said, many restaurants are still closed or not yet operating at full capacity. Not every restaurant has faced the same challenges. Thierry Delos, co-owner of Kountry Kitchen in Smithfield, said the business has been lucky to retain most of its employees, even as he hears of shortages from friends in the indus- try. "I talk to a lot of restaurants in Providence, and they can't find people. Especially in their kitchens, they have a lot of problems in their kitchens," he said. Delos described Kountry Kitchen's atmosphere as a "family" and said he thinks it's helped them keep employees in place. Many of their younger employees, he said, are the children of friends, and the res- taurant continued to pay staff even when it couldn't afford to during the pandemic. "We really take care of our employees, so they tend to stay with us and not leave," he said. For other restaurants, however the future remains unknown. Marsland said she doesn't know if Fazzini's will be able to open its outdoor patio this year or what the summer will bring. It all depends, she said, on state restrictions and how many candidates apply for jobs. "It's frustrating. This is a little over a year now. I'm lucky, but a lot of businesses have had to close," she said. RESTAURANTS From Page One R.I. Press Association announces scholarship PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Press Association is seeking applications for its annual $1,000 scholarship, which is awarded to an outstanding college student who is preparing for a career in print jour- nalism. Applications must be received by Friday, April 30. Students need not be majoring in journalism to be eli- gible. Instead, judges are looking for academic achievement and a dem- onstrated interest in print journalism, such as work on school or community newspapers. Nominees must be residents of Rhode Island attending any four-year college or university or nonresidents enrolled at a Rhode Island college or university who are entering the 2020- 21 academic year as juniors, seniors or full-time graduate students. The scholarship money is paid directly to the student. Interested students should send a letter of nomination from a college official or instructor detailing the stu- dent's accomplishments, cover letter, resumé and samples of work, includ- ing newspaper stories, classroom assignments or any other supporting material, to Elyse Major, editor in chief, Providence Media, via email at elyse@providenceonline.com by Friday, April 30. A panel of editors and journal- ists will judge the nominations. The R.I. Press Association will award the scholarship at its annual banquet on Sept. 17. got a news tip? The North Providence Breeze distributes almost 7,700 papers in North Providence every Wednesday. Gold Crafters Buying and Selling Gold - Silver - Diamonds Paper Money, Coins & More! CASH FOR GOLD Highest Prices Paid! Sell with confidence to a LICENSED Precious Metals Dealer 59 Putnam Pike, Johnston U.S. route 44 On the Johnston-North Providence Border 233-2274 Lic. #200909 WE'VE MOVED! 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