SYDNEY, NS — A Sydney restaurateur’s plan to open a beer garden in Port Hawkesbury is in jeopardy due to recruitment issues.
The owner of a popular microbrewery in Inverness has spent months advertising for various kitchen and bar staff – with little to no luck.
As Cape Breton’s tourist season heats up, food and beverage establishments still reeling from COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are struggling to find qualified people to work in the kitchen or forward as waiters and bar staff – even with said restrictions eased.
Danny Ellis, owner and developer of several Sydney restaurants including the seasonal Portside Beer Garden, said last year he planned to create a similar outdoor establishment in Port Hawkesbury to help revitalize waterfront development from the city.
‘IT’S SO BAD’
“After posting an ad, we started scouting the Richmond County area for staff, but there were none,” he said. “We had a cook who thought maybe he would come. But we needed six to start. It’s so bad.
With no qualified candidates, Ellis said he had little choice but to likely shelve the Portside Port Hawkesbury idea. “I can’t open anything that doesn’t involve top quality food and service,” he said.
His Sydney beer garden, which he hopes to open next month, managed to draw good crowds and solid business last summer despite the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of cruise ships and, according to the Ellis’ words, “54 people doing the work of 75 people.”
This year, Ellis said he trained international students and foreign workers “with very good results. We are looking at all possible avenues, looking for people with culinary skills, if they seem promising. But it’s hard: they want to work, they’re impatient, very nice and polite… but it costs us money to train and we don’t really have that luxury.
Ellis noted that restaurants that are open year-round have a better opportunity to attract potential staff. But for a majority of establishments in rural areas, which often rely on the tourist season to keep their businesses afloat, he added the struggles to find labor run deeper.
“COMPETITION IS GETTING FIERCID”
“Everyone here is crying for people to come to work,” said Wayne Gillis, owner of Route 19 Brewing in Inverness. “But other places might be looking at the same person looking for a job. The competition is getting fierce.”
The microbrewery currently employs 25 to 30 people, but turnover rates are high despite what he considers a well-paying establishment.
“We have a large kitchen. We could use two more prep staff, we are missing a dishwasher; I think we’re okay with the servers, but people move around a lot,” Gillis said. “Everyone earns above minimum wage, except the waiters, who get big tips here.
“I get a lot of applicants from overseas who want to come to Canada, and if you can sponsor them, so much the better. But if you do, you often have to register to provide them with work 32 hours a week all year round. But here in the winter months we are not open so that can’t work. So that makes things really difficult.
FINDING A ‘COMPLICATE’ SOLUTION
During a presentation Tuesday with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality council, the general manager of Destination of Cape Breton said he recognizes the labor shortage issues that have been experienced over the past two years and half, but was trying to find a solution to the lack of new hires. becomes “complicated”.
“It’s everything from demographics to emigration over the years,” Terry Smith told the council. “We have been very, very lucky here to have international students who all want to work while they come to school here. And CBU has shuttled to many tourist operations around the island – that’s a godsend.
“And I hope that continues.”
“NO PLACE TO LIVE”
Gillis noted that another challenge for people who want to work at his microbrewery comes down to housing issues. “There’s no place to live here, so where are you going?” he said.
Smith said he didn’t have any answers on how to fix hosting issues either. “In some communities, there were rental units for employees. But they turned into Airbnbs because they can make as much in a week as they would make in a month… so that created this housing shortage. It will therefore be a real challenge to try to solve this problem.
– Ian Nathanson is a reporter for the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter @CBPost_Ian.