From scouring for lids and to-go containers to struggling to offer customers enough chicken day-to-day, those at local restaurants are trying to make do with not only staff shortages, but product shortages.
At BOXCARS Pub & Grub, 108 Allen St., Clinton, it’s been difficult to obtain chicken wings, corn nuggets and onion rings and, at times, certain bottles of beer and to-go boxes, according to owner Tim Pogorelski.
“We’ve stockpiled some to-go boxes. We take what we can get,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Pogorelski said he recently traveled in the South where it was more dire. While dining in Tennessee, a restaurant owner started out by saying, “I’m going to tell you what we don’t have.”
Back at home, some of his distributors are starting to tell him the same thing.
Fortunately, Pogorelski said he’s had good luck keeping employees and understanding customers.
“We have an extraordinary group of employees,” Pogorelski said.
At Culver’s of Beloit, 2676 Cranston Road, co-owner Jim Agate along with First Assistant Josh Lock have been working in the kitchen to keep up with the worker shortage as the business needs at least 25 to 30 additional employees.
Meanwhile, the remaining employees are struggling to find lids, cups and paper products. Sometimes they will have cups and lids in different sizes, but not matching ones.
“We get creative. My dad (co-owner Bill Lock) ran to Costco to pair a cup and lid. You have to be ready for a challenge,” Josh Lock said.
Agate said the dining room now closes at 4 p.m. while it used to be open until 10 p.m. Customers can use the drive through after 4 p.m.
Keeping the business going is the restaurant’s loyal senior force, including workers such as 23-year employee Sally Rankins, who started working at Beloit Culver’s on the first day of operation, as did Josh Lock.
“I don’t always come to work because of my job. I come to see my people,” Rankins said.
Guy Bucciferro, owner of the McDonald’s restaurants in Beloit on State Street, Madison Road and Milwaukee Road as well as establishments in South Beloit and Rockton, said McDonald’s has fared well as it has a tight supply chain on a global and national level, although distribution still pose challenges.
Bucciferro said no McDonald’s in the Beloit area has permanently run out of chicken nuggets, but there have been menu items that were delayed for a few hours. One recent lunch time, McDonald’s was out of the McChicken sandwich and it’s been out of Powerade for several weeks due to a lacking ingredient.
Klaus Nitsch, vice president of Restaurant Operations at Geronimo Hospitality Group, said there have been supply chain issues likely related to labor shortages in other markets since mid-September.
“Like many others in our industry, we’re seeing some distributors unable to fulfill orders; half the food in an order could be out of stock at any given time and disposable restaurant supplies like to-go containers and cocktail napkins may be in-stock one week and not the next. Despite these challenges, we’re working hard to make sure our restaurants have the food and supplies they need to create positive experiences for our guests,” Nitsch said.
Chickens only grow two wings.
That’s one of a myriad of factors Wisconsin Restaurant Association President and CEO Kristine Hillmer described in an interview Monday when discussing the product shortage affecting restaurateurs and most other businesses.
“There isn’t one fault and there’s not one solution,” Hillmer said. “After COVID-19 we are now seeing all the related ripple effects in the market.”
Unfortunately, Hillmer believes the product shortage is going to get worse.
Some of the most common shortages restaurateurs are struggling with are chicken wings and cooking oil. Other shortages or price increases are affecting pasta and paper products such as carryout containers, straws and drink container lids.
Restaurant owners are dealing with worker shortages and hiccups in the supply chain with many items remaining in cargo ships in ports. Therefore the supplies can’t get to the manufacturers or out for further distribution.
Hillmer said one of the factors contributing to a meat and milk shortage goes back to the early days of COVID-19 when schools and restaurants were closed. Farmers dumped their milk as they ran out of capacity to store it as their end users of schools and restaurants were shut down. Further complications emerged when there were COVID-19 outbreaks in meat packing plants and those raising cattle faced similar dilemmas with smaller markets and costly upkeep of raising animals. Some farmers began to cull their herds.
“Farmers cut back on their dairy cattle because they were expensive to feed and keep and they didn’t have a market for the product. They are building their herds up now and that will take time,” Hillmer said.
During the past year many family farms and some smaller processors closed as issues arose with shortages in the areas of truck drivers, cargo ship workers and rail workers emerged and cost increases began.
“All of that is combined to create a really difficult situation in the restaurant industry and throughout the economy,” she said.
Prior to COVID-19, Hillmer said there was already a growing global worker shortage underway which was exacerbated by COVID-19, a subsequent lack of available childcare as well as an general population decline in the state.
“We know that in the state of Wisconsin our population growth is slack. The number of available working-age adults is flat, and it’s predicted to go negative,” she said. “We don’t have enough working-age adults to take jobs so competition will be fierce.”
She said Wisconsin Department of Tourism statistics indicate the state lost 22% of its hospitality workers during COVID-19. Many of them are permanent losses as other industries were hiring such as manufacturing, retail and healthcare. The loss of hospitality workers coupled with baby boomers continuing to retire exacerbates the shortage of restaurant workers.
While some baby boomers had part-time jobs in retirement in the hospitality industry in the past, many of them aren’t returning to the workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teenagers aren’t working as much as in the past decades either. It used to be common for young people to get their first job at age 16, often in restaurants. Today, many teens are doing more extracurricular activities, club sports and having family time with a decreased interest in work.
With so many challenges to restaurateurs, Hillmer said the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is working to help members become preferred employers.
“If you can retain your employees and if they are happy in that job, they will find friends to come work with them. That’s half the battle,” Hillmer said.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Association is looking at training to build skills and identify potential people to enter the workforce. The restaurant industry, she said, is a second-chance industry offering opportunities to adults who may have been out of the workforce for a time for various reasons and need to restart or begin a career.
“There are countless examples of people who started out as a dishwasher or busser and worked themselves up to manage or own their own place,” Hillmer added.
Hillmer said many restaurants are making tough decisions regarding hours of operation. While many restaurants traditionally are closed on Mondays, they are adding a Sunday or Tuesday off to give employees two days off together for a weekend.
As restaurant owners and staff navigate this challenging time, Hillmer said it’s important for consumers to continue to support them and to be patient, kind and compassionate to those who have been working so hard to provide a great dining experience.
“Patience and understanding go a long way as restaurateurs try to figure out short and long term strategies to remain open and give you great hospitality,” she said. “Communities are only thriving if they have restaurants.”
BELOIT—The Beloit School Board voted to appoint Joyce MH Ruff and Allison Semrau as its two new board members following six candidate interviews at a Tuesday evening special meeting.
Joyce MH Ruff, 69, is a former English teacher at Beloit Memorial High School and South Milwaukee High School. Ruff said she is retired and is familiar with all levels of education, teaching, relationships with students and parents, curriculum, peers and administration. She has grandchildren in the school district and sees a need for a little more diversified input, not only in racial terms, but also in diversity of perspectives, she said in an earlier interview with the Daily News.
During her board interview Tuesday evening Ruff said she served in 1980 one term on the Beloit School Board. She said she’s involved in the NAACP and her church, is a former Girl Scout and Brownie leader and attends games and concerts in the district.
Semrau attended district schools and went on to nursing school at Rockford University and worked at SwedishAmerican Health System. She’s currently a stay-at-home mom with kids in the district. Semrau said she has a lot of experience with children, will educate herself, listen to what the community needs and will find equality and equity for the district. Semrau has worked with low-income children in Rockford, volunteered and has served on the city’s Alcohol Beverage License Control Committee. Semrau said the district should look at the data and deliver the information to the teachers, community, the board and superintendent.
Ruff will take the position formerly occupied by John Wong, and Semrau will take the position formerly occupied by Maria Delgado.
Four others applicants for the board vacancies attended the candidate interviews including: Matthew Windmoeller-Schmit, Adriana Sanders, Kris Jacobsen and Christine Raleigh.
At a Sept. 7 meeting when the board voted to appoint Gregg Schneider to fill the position vacated by former board member Stephanie Jacobs, Miller announced the board would be looking to fill two additional vacancies—that of resigning members John Wong and Clerk Maria Delgado.
Raleigh had applied for the last vacancy before the board voted to appoint Schneider. She and Schneider had run in the spring 2021 election, but did not make it on the board.