On the verge of full reopening, local businesses face worker shortage and food price hikes

SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s been a rollercoaster ride for businesses. They’ve been operating at limited capacity for more than a year. Now, they’re facing staffing shortages and price hikes for food supplies.

This is all happening right before they’re supposed to see even more demand with 100 percent capacity.

Jon Green, the owner of Wooden City, said ever since the restrictions started loosening, they’ve noticed more people coming out.

“We’ve been very busy, which is great,” he said.

Though it’s great for business, they’re sometimes struggling to keep up with demand.

Wooden City has yet to even see 100 percent capacity. Green opened up the restaurant in Spokane in August. Recently, he and his general manager have been more hands on rather than overseeing operations. He’s been struggling to hire people.

“It has been a lot more challenging now than it has ever been in my many years of running restaurants to find people,” he said.

Some may say the industry needs to pay people more in order to bring in workers. It’s something Green continuously sees on social media when he’s looking at job postings. With the last year the industry went through, he says it’s tough.

“I do think it’s not as cut and dry as people think, because at the end of the day, we’re already hurting as we just went through one of the hardest years we’ve ever gone through,” he said. You can’t just throw money at problems because then you’re creating an unsustainable business model and then if the business goes out of business, then you lose all the jobs.”

Just a few blocks down, Cosmic Cowboy Grill is seeing the same issue in finding employees. A lot of Steve Eller’s employees are working overtime because they can’t fill positions.

He says it’s easy to hire people when they do come in for an interview, but few do.

“It’s just a lot, lot slower. They don’t come in very quickly and we’ve always had the problem with people trying to do the bare minimum to keep the unemployment,” Eller said. “But, we get a lot of no call, no shows on interviews.”

Not only are businesses struggling to hire, Green says he’s paying more for some of his food.

For example, about half a year ago, he said he’d pay $2.50 per pound for chicken wings. Now, it’s upwards of $5 per pound. Green says he’s trying to keep changes to the menu minimal and prices about the same.

“We’re still trying to find that balance where we don’t have to charge $20 for a burger, but we’re all waiting to see if this equalizes,” he said. “The way it’s going right now, it won’t be sustainable forever.”

He says it’s been stressful to keep up with demand and have all the food, supplies and people they need to give customers a “seamless experience.”

He’s asking for patience from people when they come in, adding that people in Spokane have been mindful of the tough year everyone’s had.

“I think as things start to feel a lot more normal, ‘Oh, things are normal, I’m expecting this to get back to normal,'” he continued. “Behind the scenes, if you go behind the curtain there is definitely still a lag on the business end, whereas it might feel very normal, we’re still going to have some of these lasting effects with the supply chain, the labor shortage, and it is going to take us some time to catch up.”

Washington is getting closer to fully reopening. Gov. Inslee is staying the course and will not reopen the state at full capacity until at least 70 percent of Washingtonians 16 and up get their first dose.

On Thursday, the state Secretary of Health said Washington is at 68.1 percent. There’s no telling if the state will reopen before next Wednesday, but regardless, it will happen June 30.

When that time comes, even through everything the industry is going through, Green says they’re up for the challenge.

“We’re going to make that happen. We’re not going to have to cut out services, we’re ready to do it,” he said. “We’re working really hard to make it happen.”

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