PHOENIX — 2020 brought a slew of challenges to restaurants across Arizona.
The spread of COVID-19 forced many to shut their doors, furlough or lay off employees, and in some cases revamp their business model to focus on take-out or delivery services.
Now, as the service industry bounces back, some restaurateurs say they're struggling to fill positions they lost during the peak of the pandemic.
“We lost seven employees because of that," said Chef Javier Perez, owner of The Bread and Honey House off 47th Street and Van Buren in Phoenix. "We were able to bring back three employees, but we couldn’t get our other employees back."
“Everybody’s hiring," added Josh Garcia, owner of Miracle Mile Deli in Downtown Phoenix. "There are still people looking for work, so why aren’t those people filling those positions that we’re all struggling to find?“
The answer varies from person to person, according to Mark Tarbell, owner of Tarbell's off 32nd Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix.
“I think some people found other things to do during the pandemic that aren’t restaurants, and they may be happy in those jobs," he said. "There is a deep insecurity now about our industry because we were shut down and we were forced to do things like furlough people."
Tarbell adds that some still worry about the risk of COVID-19, as many essential workers under 55 years old still aren't eligible for the vaccine.
“Everything is about collective comfort," added Tarbell. "There’s been a big disruption in people’s comfort in all kinds of things with COVID and we are in the public business, we can’t deny that. So, I think when there is a collective comfort around this, I think that’s when people will start considering this as a great option.”
Maricopa County says essential workers, including those in the food industry, will be prioritized as the next in line to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Health officials say they're working with restaurant groups and companies to schedule vaccine events in the coming weeks for essential workers, including public transport drivers, farm workers, and more.