Restaurants brace for pinch as student workers go back to school

Mid-August crunch time

By Kendra walker

When ordering food in town this summer, you may have noticed the local employees look a little younger. It’s not your aging eyes playing tricks on you – with local businesses feeling the strains of short staffs this summer, many restaurants in town have hired on local high school and college students. With limited available affordable housing in the Gunnison Valley right now making it challenging to hire on service industry workers, teens have stepped up to the plate to serve the hungry flocks of tourists this summer. However, as students head back to school in the coming weeks, many restaurants are bracing for yet another staffing pinch.

Dewey Overholser with the Coffee Lab says that pretty much all of his staff this summer is high school and college-aged. “All but one of our employees and me are college or high school students,” he says, which is uncommon for the Coffee Lab. “We always have a few high school and college students and in Gothic we have a couple who happen to live out there and are awesome.” In hiring for this summer, he said, ”Those were the employees that already had housing.” Even though taking on a younger staff has required more training than usual, he says that they’re doing a good job. 

Michelle Tan with Ryce Asian Bistro also has hired on some younger folks. “I have a few kids from the high school,” she says, but notes that they also worked for her since last summer. Tan says that her younger employees have been great as servers and bussers, but it’s been difficult to find cooks in the back who are experienced with Asian cuisine. Ryce, like all the restaurants, has been extremely busy this year. Regarding wait times, “most people understand but there’s always people that aren’t happy,” says Tan. 

Jamie Timmons at McGill’s says that hiring Crested Butte’s younger crowd is not a new thing for him. “This is totally normal for us,” he says. “In the last nine or 10 years we’ve had good luck finding good kids who are hard workers and I know a lot of their parents so it’s great to have that connection with the families.”

Timmons says he has some return high school employees from last summer, and about five or six new employees. For most of them, McGill’s was or is their first job. 

“They’re doing great, it’s incredible,” Timmons says. “A lot of them enjoy working and they like to earn their own money.”

Timmons notes his decision to cut back from seven days to five days a week this summer. “We’ve always done seven days a week in the summer. I never thought I’d really do five days a week, but it’s allowed me to put out five days of solid food and service instead of seven days of subpar food and service.” 

Between the Secret Stash and Bonez, Kyleena Falzone hires 130+ employees every summer, and business is up 38 percent over last summer, she says. Falzone says she’s been lucky to be able to operate on a full schedule, seven days a week. And with so many other businesses closed on Tuesdays this year due to short staffing, Tuesdays are one of her busiest. The Secret Stash is pushing more than 1,200 guests a day, she estimates. “It’s like Disneyland in there,” she says. 

Falzone says that she’s hired on quite a few high school and college-aged students, which is not the norm. “When I hire for the summer, I typically hire for June 15 and you have to stay until September 30,” she says. “It takes a long time to onboard somebody, but I’ve made exceptions this year.” 

Falzone says a lot of Texas families have actually contributed to her workforce this summer, with their kids taking on shifts for the three or four weeks of their stay in Crested Butte. “Now we’re planning for a three-week to a month time period. But that takes a lot more onboarding and training,” she notes, which has added to the chaos of an already busy summer. She says that the younger employees also need more direction than her more experienced staff, which can be a challenge for operations. 

But overall, “The kids are great, I love them, I love their families, they’re fun, they’ve got a lot of energy,” says Falzone. “It’s a little more work to keep the high schoolers on task but it’s worth it.”

With back to school just around the corner, Overholser at the Coffee Lab says he is in a fortunate position as things will start to slow down at that point and he has some seasonal workers already planning on coming back for the winter. “During the interim period between getting them here and up to speed, our managers and I will be working a little more.”

Tan at Ryce is preparing for when her high schoolers head back to school. “I’ve talked to some of them already, some have sports activities going on,” she says. “When that happens they’ll probably work only one night a week.” Tan says that she might have to rearrange servers and bussers a bit, but can hopefully manage. 

Timmons at McGill’s says that the fall will definitely put a dent in his workforce. “We’re about to lose around 35 percent of our staff of high school and college-aged kids. It gets tricky as we head into the next couple weeks,” he says. “Everyone we have that isn’t leaving will be working much harder. But we’re going to make it happen no matter what. Having those extra two days off where we don’t have to stretch schedules will help a little more. But things won’t slow down for us until mid-October.” 

Falzone says that she will be facing some turnover. “When those guys leave I’m going to have to condense the restaurant, we’ll lose a serious amount of revenue by closing the Red Room,” she says, noting that starting this week the Red Room, which seats 100 people, will only be open Fridays and Saturdays. “We don’t have enough of the support staff to keep it open.” 

But Falzone expresses her gratitude for the staff she does have. “I feel really grateful, we have a great management staff and so many people that come in and kick ass. We got $3,000 in kitchen tips in one hour last week and I matched it. I’m so happy to write that check to my staff.” Falzone has also opened up tabs with Thrive Yoga and Sea Level Spa to encourage her staff to take care of themselves.  

No matter where you dine out this summer, remember everyone’s stretched thin and doing their best, and above all, keeping Crested Butte running. Patience and kindness go a long way in this town. 

Check Also

Kebler Pass Road a no-go for this weekend

Cottonwood, Gothic will open Friday By Katherine Nettles Despite its best efforts, Gunnison County Public Works …