COVID-19

California Restaurants Struggling to Get Back on Their Feet

They can't find enough workers to meet the demand as customers return.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Even as we emerge from the pandemic, 37% of California restaurants can't pay their rent.

They're struggling to get back on their feet, but can't find enough workers to meet the demand as customers return.

Fromin's Restaurant & Deli in Santa Monica has tried everything to attract workers, including offering higher wages and hiring bonuses. But four months after re-opening they still can't fill the positions.

The restaurant and deli has been a staple in the city for 40 years, and customers are grateful the family-owned business survived the pandemic, but the staff is tired. They're working 6 days a week because the restaurant can't fill vacant positions.

Fromin's isn't alone. There are currently 350,000 unfilled restaurant jobs in California.

"Everyone's in the same boat," said Bruce Stein, the general manager of Fromin's. 'We're all trying to find people. You can't walk past a restaurant without seeing a help wanted sign."

Stein says he thought workers would return after extended unemployment benefits ended in September, but that hasn't happened.

"A lot of our cooks, when we had to lay off a percentage of them during COVID, they found work in construction because construction was booming and they're not coming back. They like working outdoors not over a hot stove."

Fromin's survived this far with help from the federally funded California revitalization fund, but that program ran out of money in July, so 20,000 other California restaurants were turned down.

Some 2,200 of them had to close.

The California Restaurant Association is urging Congress to send more federal relief to save the industry. Congress is tied up with the infrastructure bill so restaurants are left in limbo, not knowing whether more help will be on the way.

"We view it as Congress needs to finish the job they started," Jot Condie, the president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. "Even as the restaurants are trying to get back open as quick as they can they're staring at a stack of bills on their desk that accumulated over a year and a half."

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