Customers are returning to San Diego restaurants and it has helped local sales increase, but the problem for owners now is getting workers to come back. Many are hiring, but still struggling to fill essential staff positions.
“I have placed ads on Facebook and Craigslist to hire employees and more specifically kitchen crew and it’s been a challenge,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, General Manager at Casa Don Diego Restaurant in Chula Vista.
Gonzalez has been forced to make several changes during the pandemic, but he didn't expect to have such a difficult time hiring back workers.
“I have had to raise my offering as far as the pay rate. I have had to up the salary and offer a little bit more than previously and also offer some other incentives like healthcare,” said Gonzalez.
The change has increased the cost of doing business for Gonzalez. There are different theories and factors on why restaurants are having hiring challenges. Kitchen work is extremely demanding. Some owners worry government benefits are keeping younger employees at home.
Despite the challenges, there is help for struggling restaurants.
“There have been several grants and incentives and loans that different levels of government have made available to us,” said Gonzalez.
He has received grants from the City of Chula Vista, the County of San Diego, the State of California, and the federal government.
“You have to be very savvy, you have to act on them really fast and you have to be very aggressive in how you secure them, but they are out there,” Gonzalez added.
It has taken longer than expected, but Gonzalez says sales are back near pre-pandemic levels. Many of the locals are thrilled to be back at their favorite food spot.
“It’s just a place you can get together and be really comfortable and have good food and feel welcome and feel like you’re home and support Chula Vista,” said Candy Silva, a Chula Vista resident and longtime customer.
With more customers and employees being vaccinated, Gonzalez is hoping filling his staff will become easier.
The California Restaurant Association estimates nearly one million restaurant jobs were lost in 2020. Many have come back with the limited reopening of restaurants.