JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Just a few weeks ago, restaurants across the region and nation were shut down due to the pandemic. Their owners told News Channel 11 in various interviews they weren’t sure how many staff members they would be able to bring back on when they could open back up. Now, they are in desperate need of employees.
“We’re hiring for a little bit of everything right now. I would love to have a couple of more kitchen folks right now, that’s for sure,” said Firehouse Restaurant owner, Tom Seaton.
The food and hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Seaton’s dining room was closed for eleven weeks in all.
“We can’t meet the demand that people want. Just an example — the first time we did the sushi for curbside and for here, we were so busy that we had to tell people ‘Sorry, we just can’t do the capacity,” said Label Co-General Manager Dustin Swayze.
All of the eateries within the Stir Fry Restaurant Group, Label’s parent company, are hiring for all positions. His restaurant is mainly looking for back of house and kitchen employees.
“As soon as we are allowed to have more people…they call us,” Swayze said. “‘Hey, can we bump that reservation up? Can we bring in more people?'”
Another Tri-Cities restaurant chain owner is in a similar situation. Jamie Dove owns The Main Street Pizza Company in Johnson City and Kingsport, County Line Pie in Chuckey, and River Creek Farm.
“We’re on very shaky ground…it is a good feeling to think ‘Well, we’re going to need a few people if we’re going to move forward,'” Dove said.
Right now his restaurants are still only serving to-go, carry-out and delivery.
“Inching toward getting our dining rooms back open, then we’re going to have to fill some, hopefully, if the volume’s there, we’ll have to fill some of the positions again…kind of all three of the categories…front back and management,” Dove said.
On the other side of downtown, Firehouse is also adjusting to the new norm and is now needing help.
“It was almost overwhelming at first. We had to adjust a lot of things to make that happen and we waited a little while before we opened the dining room back and since opening them back, we’ve got a lot of our regulars coming back. It’s getting busy,” Seaton said. “We need to build our staff up a little bit more.”
Although people are starting to venture out again, Seaton says he hasn’t had too many inquiries about his openings.
“We have been taking applications…there’s very few coming in,” he said.
All three of the restaurants said they lost some employees due to students from ETSU moving back home during the closure but they will need to replace those employees and hire more as regulations continue to lift and demand continues to increase. They also told me that their employees wanted to come back and they haven’t had anyone refusing to work.