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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 12:01 am

Good staff even harder to find these days

Kimberly Dupps Truesdell | For The Journal Gazette

When Mark Melchi left me a voicemail mentioning Easter, I was sure I was going to get all the delectable details of a holiday buffet when I called him back.

Royal red shrimp and ribs, crepe stations and made-to-order omelets, cheesy hash browns and green beans. And maybe, if we were all lucky, chocolate cake.

But the conversation we had wasn't about menu planning. Instead, we talked about how Lucky Moose on Dupont Road would not be open this Sunday morning for the brunch-loving masses. His staff could go to church if they chose and enjoy the day with their families.

It's not that Melchi particularly wanted to keep the doors closed but trouble attracting and keeping a good staff were determining factors.

High turnover is not uncommon in the restaurant industry but it has increased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, turnover in the restaurant industry was 67 percent in 2014 and 72 percent in 2015. It's not uncommon lately to see local restaurants advertising for cooks and staff on social media.

Melchi says that as the economy has seemingly improved and unemployment has fallen, there are fewer people who want to work in restaurants. In 2016, he says, he spent more advertising for open positions than he did the restaurant itself. A large banner in front of the restaurant seeking applicants netted few.

For the veteran restaurateur, it's been frustrating. “It's incredibly tough,” he says.

It hasn't been a lack of applicants for open positions at The Hoppy Gnome that has posed a problem, says Peter Shuey, general manager of the downtown restaurant and brewery.

“We're really focused on quality right now,” Shuey says. “With more and more restaurants opening, especially downtown, the demand has grown but the supply isn't there.”

There is a struggle with the growing dining scene, too that there are more places to work and it's easier for people to “hop around rather than stay loyal to one spot.”

The restaurant is slowly trying to build a relationship with local universities that have culinary and hospitality programs. At a recent event, IPFW and high school students were servers and a student who showed particular enthusiasm – asking questions and taking notes – was offered a job. Shuey says he will work part time while in school.

As the school year comes to an end, Shuey expects to see more applications come in. “It's just the natural flow of things,” he says.

That time of year will also bring warmer weather, making outdoor seating available. The patio will soon be open seven days a week and that means 14 more shifts to fill for the restaurant.

“We haven't really run into any super big problems,” Shuey says but adds that restaurants do have to get creative with their scheduling.

Bronze effort

Three Rivers Distilling Co., recently won bronze medals for their spirits at two national-level competitions in only their first year of business.

The first craft distillery in the city, they entered their Harvester Vodka and Summit City Gin in the American Craft Spirits Association Competition and the American Distilling Institute Competition earlier this year.

The American Craft Spirits Association awarded Three Rivers a bronze medal for their Harvester Vodka at the annual conference in February. The contest had 599 spirit entries throughout the categories.

The American Distilling Institute awarded Three Rivers a bronze medal for its Harvester Vodka and Summit City Gin at its annual conference in April. The contest had 680 spirit entries throughout the categories.

Chain opens Friday

Potbelly Sandwich Shop will open its first shop in Fort Wayne on Friday at 501 Coliseum Blvd. E. in the Coliseum Shoppes.

The restaurant features warm sandwiches, hand-dipped milkshakes and live music, as well as local décor.

“Although new to Fort Wayne, the brand is well known throughout the Midwest so the excitement level for the opening is through the roof,” operating partner Justin Rowe says. “I fell in love with Potbelly years ago, and I'm looking forward to helping the local neighborhood do the same.”

The sandwich shop will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Fundraisers

• On May 4, Culver's restaurants will host the third annual Scoops of Thanks Day, when guests can stop by any Culver's and donate $1 to the National FFA Organization and other local agricultural organizations in exchange for a single scoop of Fresh Frozen Custard.

Last year, Scoops of Thanks Day raised $56,500 for local FFA chapters and other agricultural organizations selected by each restaurant. FFA is a national youth organization whose mission is to make a difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

• Homebound Meals will host “Tapas & Tinis” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 11 at Club Soda.

Featuring elegant martinis, a variety of gourmet tapas and appetizers as well as a silent auction, this fundraiser will benefit Homebound Meals, a Fort Wayne-based, non-profit provider of hot, therapeutic meals for homebound residents.

Tickets are $50 a person and may be purchased at www.homeboundmealsfw.org.

The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email kdupps@jg.net or call 461-8304.