Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze & Observer 04-01-2021

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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SMITHFIELD SCITUATE FOSTER GLOCESTER EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE & OBSERVER | APRIL 1-7, 2021 NORTH COUNTY 3 BURRILLVILLE – One year into the pandemic, Paula Dumas, owner of Uncle Ronnie's Red Tavern in Burrillville with her husband, Ron, said they've faced everything. Since last March, they've switched to takeout, limited their seating, and navi- gated the complicated policies around reopening. But the latest challenge, she said, isn't related to the number of customers or government restrictions. Instead, she said, it's staff that she's struggling to bring in the door. "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 employees 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 customers and last weekend's warm weather. "I've got new chairs, tables, heaters 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, business is picking up as people receive their stimulus payments and feel comfortable returning to indoor dining. "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 north- ern Rhode Island reported similar chal- lenges this week. Peter Kakisis, owner of Pawtucket House of Pizza, said he's been unable to find additional employ- ees since last April. "People don't want to work. They're afraid. They get more money not work- ing," he said. "...We don't get anybody." Kristine Teto, owner of Tumblesalts Cafe, said the North Providence restau- rant 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 Restaurant owners say employee shortage holding them back By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Deputy Editor lauren@valleybreeze.com BREEZE PHOTO BY LAUREN CLEM Owner PAULA DUMAS stands on the back patio at Uncle Ronnie's Red Tavern in Burrillville, which she says they've been unable to open due to a shortage of employ- ees. 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 origi- nally," 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 seasonal 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 dining last year but can't get enough staff to return to pre-pandemic hours. Before the pan- demic, 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 See RESTAURANTS, Page 6

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