Contact 2: Restaurants navigate pandemic fueled labor shortage

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ST. LOUIS – Hogtown Smokehouse is closed on Tuesdays; a respite for a restaurant finding its way through the pandemic.

“We have the neighborhood to thank in Dogtown. They really kept us afloat through the pandemic,” said co-owner Rico Lange.

Lange says that a loyal following and dedicated staff are keeping the doors open.

“We have a core front of the house who show up to work every day. We’ve got to give a hat’s off to them,” he said.

In the kitchen, it’s a two-man show, with Lange’s business partner Chris Muich and one other employee handling every order.

“It’s real tough to find staff at this point,” Lange said.

He says hiring reinforcements has been tough. At other restaurants, he’s heard keeping them is tougher.

“We’ve had a few people show interest and not show up for interviews,” Lange said. “Even if the person does show up, they’ll show up for a day and I’ve heard them just not showing back up.”

The labor shortage continues to grab headlines nationwide, impacting businesses big and small. It’s forced many restaurants to pay more to keep the staff they have; in turn passing costs to customers. Lange says meat prices, not manpower, caused a slight price hike on certain Hogtown offerings.

“What we were paying for beef in February of this year has doubled in price,” he said.

A recent survey from the National Association of Business Economics indicates hiring and supply chain shortages aren’t going away. Approximately 94% of respondents said they don’t expect the labor shortage to end this year. Half of the panelists expect materials costs to rise in the next three months.

“To get over this hump, I don’t know what the answer is. I wish I did know,” Lange said.

For now, Lange says Hogtown will stick to what helped them make their first dollar: good food, good service, and hard work.

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