The restaurant industry has been among the many industries hit hard by the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. A Vanceboro, North Carolina restaurant that closed barely a month after opening was the latest victim of labor shortages and rising food prices.
Clinton and Zena Dawson shut down their restaurant Mary Lee’s Kitchen on Oct. 24, less than a month after its grand opening on Oct. 1.
The restaurant’s closure served as a difficult lesson for the Dawson couple. They cited labor shortage and increasing food prices – both effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – as contributing factors to their decision.
According to Zena Dawson, she and her husband jumped out on faith when they opened Mary Lee’s Kitchen. “We gave it a try and things didn’t work out the way we planned. Not knowing so many changes were going to continue to hit us every second of the day, it was a never-ending story,” she said.
A Sept. 19 report by the New Bern Sun Journal (NBSJ) talked about the restaurant’s opening. Mary Lee’s Kitchen served fried and baked chicken, turkey and pork BBQ, smothered meats with gravy, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, yams and hog chitterlings – with seafood items on Fridays.
Clinton Dawson told the newspaper that he felt a soul food restaurant was what Vanceboro needed. “Although I felt it was needed, I wanted to see what other people thought. I went to social media and engaged with others about my idea. The feedback was amazing, so I moved forward,” he said. He added that the restaurant took its name from his mother.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, several businesses have had to close their doors. Business owner Greg Collins attested to this, saying that most other establishments are facing the same issues as the Dawsons. Collins owns Ghent Sandwich Shop in New Bern, North Carolina which has been in business since 1947.
“If you can even get people to show up for the interview, they will not show up for the first day of work. The supply chain is just as bad. One week you can get chicken, the next week you can’t. It’s harder to do business now than it has ever been,” he said. (Related: Nobody wants to work: Labor shortage holds back restaurant industry as states ease pandemic restrictions.)
The labor shortage plaguing the restaurant industry has affected establishments both big and small. McDonald’s manager James Meadowcraft, who handles a branch of the fast food chain in Tampa, Florida, advertised plans to pay a $50 bonus to people who show up to a job interview back in April 2021. “I tried to make a little splash,” he told the New York Post.
Meadowcraft put up a sign that interviews would be conducted on weekday afternoons, with interviewees set to receive the $50 bonus. However, he eventually removed the sign after two weeks because it did not attract any candidate at all. “No one responded. I didn’t even get anyone trying to scam us,” the McDonald’s manager said. (Related: Florida McDonald’s forced to pay applicants $50 just to show up to interview because unemployment benefits are more lucrative.)
Meanwhile, Turkish chef and internet personality Nusret Gokce advertised job openings for his London steak house in October 2021. Nusret, more popularly known as “Salt Bae,” posted that his restaurant in the U.K. needed “waiters, runners, bartenders, bar backs, kitchen porters [and] toilet attendants.” The job posting added that “international opportunities” and “growth and development” await applicants who sign up to work at Gokce’s establishment.
But according to the Sun, no one showed up to apply for any openings. Even the presence of Gokce himself failed to attract potential hires. A staff member told the British tabloid: “We’ve not had anyone come in yet, but we’ve got applications online.”
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