Staff housing shortage in Ingonish
Economic Development Officer Patrick Austin will push billeting program North of Smokey in the off-season
Ingonish restaurants are closing their doors one day per week due to lack of staff, and lack of staff accommodations.
The family-owned Seagull Restaurant in Ingonish is desperate for another cook. This is the first time in the restaurant’s 44-year history that they haven’t been able to find one.
“We could have had people from Sydney Mines that we know of, but there's nowhere to put them,” said Seagull manager Gail Maclean.
Maclean manages a staff of 13, and has five waitstaff on at all times that work 10-hour shifts. Most menu items are made from scratch. Right now, giving everyone the rest they need means closing Mondays.
Down the road, co-owners of the Salty Rose’s and the Periwinkle Café, Sarabeth Drover and cousin Caitlyn Purcell, find themselves in a similar position. The café sells coffee and baked goods on Tuesdays, but the kitchen is closed to prevent staff burn-out and to allow time for menu prep. Everything, including the bread and mayo used in the crab sandwich, is made inhouse by their three kitchen staff.
Drover says the fully-licensed business is going well two-years in, but more staff are needed to capture other business opportunities. She would like to throw appetizer and wine/beer events in the evening, but lacks the staff to support it.
“I would say we're at a standstill.”
“We have the capacity to do
wonderful catering and we have done a couple already this summer. But, I just decided after discussing it with the staff, after doing a 40-person wedding and a 14-person wedding two weekends in a row, we just can't do it.”
Drover feels the café, with its unique menu and use of fresh local ingredients, is a desirable place for culinary arts students. She believes the beauty of Ingonish would also be enticing for restaurant employees in urban centers. They advertised on the Internet for months before opening - Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace and Things to Buy in Ingonish - with no response.
“I think that if there were accommodation, then we would have the staff, people would be applying from Halifax, Truro, New Glasgow and other parts of Nova Scotia, or even beyond.”
Jason Leblanc, co-owner of The Coastal Waters Restaurant, says he has been lucky so far this season, though expects he will eventually be in the same boat as his counterparts at the Seagull, the Periwinkle and the Mainstreet Restaurant and Bakery which closes Wednesdays. Leblanc had to close Friday, July 27 until 3pm to restock and prep for the weekend.
Nearby closures mean customer overflow at his restaurant, which in turn cuts into much-needed downtime. Leblanc does not begrudge the extra business. He is aware of the staffing challenges in the area.
“It’s a huge problem. People have been saying that for years. Actually, my business partner and I thought a few times whether it would be worth it to put up maybe an eight or ten-unit building for staff accommodations for the area. We don't really have the money by ourselves to do that right now. I think it would be huge, though. I think people want to work here. They just have nowhere to stay.”
This summer, Victoria County piloted a billeting program in an attempt to resolve employee accommodation shortages. County Economic Development Officer (EDO) Patrick Austin says 20 room rentals became available, but only between Baddeck and Iona. Fifteen of those were rented out. Austin says the process is simple and a safe way for people to bring in additional income. Only a one-page fixed lease agreement is required.
Austin said they had difficulty identifying potential renters in the Ingonish area this summer.
“I don't think we're going to find anything for this year, but with the lessons that we've learned as we got this program going this year, we're going to push a little more aggressively in the Ingonish come fall and winter to get it on people's radar.”
Learn more about the billeting program her: https:// capebretonpartnership.com/ billeting-program.