Latest increase in COVID-19 cases may mean changes to your favorite Austin spots

Austin

New COVID-19 cases are making a labor shortage even worse

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some of your favorite local food joints may be operating differently as we approach the holidays or even closing completely. The rising number of COVID-19 cases is making a labor shortage even worse.

“We still have a significant portion of our workforce that has not returned to our restaurants,” said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, spokesperson for the Texas Restaurant Association.

She said the Austin metro’s leisure and hospitality industry is still down about 7,000 workers compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

It’s something Janelle Reynolds had to deal with as head chef at Rosedale’s Kitchen and Bar.

“For the longest time, we didn’t have a dishwasher that we could operate with. So myself and my other cooks, we would take turns on who would run to the back and run a few racks of dishes and get back on the line,” Reynolds remembered.

She said she’d go through stacks of applications, but many applicants wouldn’t show up.

“That was incredibly stressful, because there’s only so much, you know, one person can do in a restaurant that feeds 100-plus people,” Reynolds said.

When her sous chef and lead cook quit within 24 hours of each other, saying they felt overworked, Reynolds gave her notice, too.

“It broke me,” she said. “I knew I physically, mentally and emotionally could not do it again of trying to re-staff a kitchen, retrain a new sous chef, retrain a lead line cook and do it without having a breakdown,” she said.

“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, because I opened that restaurant, and I loved it deeply,” Reynolds added.

“This new variant is definitely going to exacerbate that, because we’re seeing that it is highly contagious, and we are expecting breakthrough cases,” Streufert said.

Franklin barbecue announced multiple employees have tested positive and without them, the restaurant doesn’t have enough staff to operate their dining room.

Kome Sushi on Airport Boulevard said it’s trying to test workers quickly but will remain entirely closed until they have enough people to operate the restaurant.

Streufert said the good news is so far, most businesses seem to be operating normally, and the ones that are closing are doing so for a short time.

“They’re announcing pretty short term closures, in large part, because their workforce is this fully vaccinated. And so, they’re expecting those workers to recover quickly, be healthy, be able to work again. I think that’s really the sort of bright side,” she said.

According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, besides the leisure and hospitality industry, education and health services also have not regained pre-pandemic levels of employment.

Reynolds is now focusing on her child, and her own private chef business she and her husband started about 15 years ago, called @t Large Chefs, cooking for small parties and families.

“Instead of going out to restaurants, using that money to have one of us come to dinner for them … and meal prep and things like that, so that people can enjoy a restaurant-quality food, but in the safety of their own home,” Reynolds said.

She said they haven’t needed to hire their own additional staff just yet, and one family has hired her husband full time starting Jan. 4.

“That’s huge, because that’s a guaranteed salary where he’s going to be in a private home where the family is vaccinated, and so for their peace of mind and our peace of mind,” she said.

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