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‘We’re looking forward to getting business back to usual’: restauranteur struggles to fill positions

Owner of Sundance Grill & Bar and others say hospitality industry is seeking to fill thousands of openings nationwide.
Posted at 7:05 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 21:42:22-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On Thursday, Jeff Lobdell learned on a business call that nationwide there’s 12,000,000 job openings in the hospitality industry. However, only 200,000 people are applying, he said.

That statistic hit home for Lobdell this week. The Red Geranium restaurant in Wyoming, which he owns, has been so busy over the last few weeks that they had to close their doors on Monday and Tuesday just to give their staff a break.

READ MORE: Restaurant industry struggles to get workers to come back

“I believe they’re going to stay closed on Monday next week because we’re limited to how many people we have that can cook food,” Lobdell said during an interview with FOX 17 on Friday. ”We’re considering transferring some cooks over to that place, or if you’d like to apply, we have jobs at the Red Geranium in Wyoming.”

That’s one of Lobdell’s main focuses right now: hiring more staff. He’s president of Restaurant Partners Management LLC, which oversees 12 eateries in the Grand Rapids area and five more in Traverse City. All of them, he said, were hit hard by the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic we had roughly 600 employees, and so we got down to 50 employees,” Lobdell recalled. “Now we’ve built our team back up to 375-400 employees. But, we have 200 openings right now.”

He believes some people are choosing to stay home to assist with their family’s needs and collecting unemployment is helping them get by.

“I think a lot of it has been, let’s face it, a lot of younger people and newer people in the workforce that kind of live check to check,” Lobdell added. “With the stimulus, you may not need to go back right away. But we’re seeing now more and more applicants coming through, so we’re thinking that that’s ending.”

It’s something he hopes to see soon because demand is increasing. Even though they’re allowed 50 percent capacity and are adhering to an 11 p.m. curfew—both guidelines set by the state—demand is at 100-110 percent, similar to their 2019 numbers.

RELATED: West Michigan restaurants navigate new state recommendations

So, he’s hoping to hire workers quickly.

“We just did something recently where we’re offering pandemic pay for our line cooks. We now give everybody in the restaurant free meals. So, if you like free food, that's awesome,” Lobdell said. “We in addition with our 12 restaurants in Grand Rapids, they get a 10-percent discount card whenever they want to go out and dine at other places.”

And for the managers, he’s guaranteeing 50 percent of their bonuses for six months. He hopes these deals will lure people to apply for one of their hundreds of job openings.

“I look very much forward to the day we can get back to 100 percent,” Lobdell said. “I know that the demand is there by the consumers. Our staff is looking forward to that but it’s tough right now. More people need to get vaccinated. I got vaccinated this morning, and we’re looking forward to getting business back to usual.”

READ MORE: Some economic experts say the restaurant industry is rebounding

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