'We can’t find people anywhere:' Washington restaurant owners face staffing shortage

The next time you’re walking around the neighborhood take a look around at the storefronts of businesses, chances are you’ll see some "Help Wanted" signs.

"Most restaurants I know are short on cooks and front-of-house staff and we can’t find people anywhere," said Dan Austin.

Austin is the owner of Peel & Press in West Seattle. The restaurant serves up stone-fired pizza and, before COVID-19, fresh-pressed cocktails.

The restaurant has been surviving on carryout only, but would like to welcome customers back for in-person dining and expand its operating hours. However, Austin said he doesn’t have enough staff to do it.

"There’s a lot of people who won’t come off the sidelines of unemployment because they’re afraid we’ll get rolled back and they’ll go back into unemployment," said Austin. "A lot of those folks battled eight to twelve weeks to get their original unemployment checks. No one wants to live through that again."

There are also those who made the decision to step away from the hospitality industry altogether.

"A lot of people left the industry. Folks have looked for other jobs or have been forced into reevaluating what they do and they’re trying something new right now, so we’ve lost people from being closed."

Over the last week, more than 20,000 people signed a petition to Governor Jay Inslee for a state reopening plan, according to the Washington Hospitality Association (WHA).

President and CEO Anthony Anton said it’s exciting to see a clear path forward with the governor’s announcement to fully open by June 30.

"When we offer people work and we talk with longtime team members they know they have a stable job to come back to, and when they come back to work, they’ll be back at work," said Anton.

WHA is still petitioning to have the state fully open before the current June 30 date.

"It’s time. We’ve all sacrificed for over a year. By the beginning of June, everyone who wants a vaccination will have had one and we’re excited about that. We’ll have lots of time to dispel all the myths and then we can move forward on June 15," said Anton.

"I liked June 15 as a date, but June 30th is a win, and I hope the governor continues to evaluate the metrics and if it can be done sooner, do it sooner," said Austin.

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