Em­ploy­ers strug­gle to fill food ser­vice, en­try level jobs

24 Hours Vancouver - - NEWS - RANDY SHORE

North Van­cou­ver’s iconic Tom­a­hawk Bar­be­cue has closed for din­ner four nights a week while owner Chuck Cham­ber­lain tries to find kitchen help.

In three months since los­ing sev­eral long­time cooks, his ads have drawn just 12 ap­pli­cants and plenty of noshows. The two that showed up for their sched­uled in­ter­view were hired on the spot.

One new hire was sched­uled to start a week ago on Satur­day morn­ing, but hasn’t shown up yet.

“Most of my chefs had been here more than 30 years, so I didn’t know hir­ing would be such a prob­lem,” said Cham­ber­lain, who has em­ploy­ees com­mut­ing from as far way as Port Moody. “Well it’s be­come such a prob­lem that we have to close at four o’clock Mon­day through Thurs­day.”

Cham­ber­lain alone.

The Noo­dle House on Lons­dale Av­enue in North Van­cou­ver shut down per­ma­nently a few weeks ago due to a chronic short­age of staff and spo­radic one-day restau­rant clo­sures are pop­ping up all over the Metro Van­cou­ver. In Van­cou­ver, Aphroidite’s Or­ganic Cafe has sus­pended all din­ner ser­vice for the fall and win­ter due to a staff short­age.

“In al­most 25 years in this busi­ness I’ve never seen it this bad,” said chef Robert Belcham, owner of Van­cou­ver’s Cam­pag­nolo, Cam­pag­nolo ROMA and Monarch Burger. “We have an en­tire in­dus­try that is strug­gling to find qual­ity cooks.”

Restau­rants are feel­ing the squeeze, in part be­cause din­ers are so sen­si­tive to price in­creases, he ex­plained.

“Fif­teen years ago I was sell­ing a sal­mon main course is hardly for $25 and to­day I’m still sell­ing the sal­mon en­trée for $25,” Belcham said. “What else can you buy for the same price as 15 years ago? Five years ago? Noth­ing.”

Much of the glam­our at­tached to the in­dus­try by the rise of Food Net­work and celebrity chef wor­ship has faded as young work­ers face the re­al­ity of work­ing in a hot, busy kitchen.

“I’d love to be able to pay all my staff a $40,000 liv­ing wage, be­cause we want them to be happy and stay,” said Belcham, who com­mutes from Maple Ridge. “It’s not an easy job and the shelf life of a line cook is maybe ten years and usu­ally it’s only a cou­ple of years. It’s a high pres­sure job and you don’t get paid any­thing.”

Long dis­tance com­muters ap­pear loathe to spend hours on tran­sit for a kitchen worker’s wage, which typ­i­cally starts un­der $20 an hour.

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