Bronzeville job fair hopes to bring staff back to Chicago restaurants

CHICAGO (WLS) — A dozen restaurants teamed up for a job fair in Bronzeville on Monday, hoping to bring back staff as they prepare to fully reopen.

Windy City Ribs and Whiskey, a stone’s throw from McCormick Place, was usually open for lunch on Monday afternoons. But even with the grill on, the restaurant cannot yet resume its normal schedule.

“We’ve had to make these kinds of adjustments because although we have the demand to come, we don’t have the staff to be able to serve them. That’s the challenge,” said Terri Evans, owner.

All restaurants at the job fair are hoping the promise of higher wages, which includes full minimum wage even for tipped employees, will lure people into an industry that has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is now faces a severe labor shortage.

“I interviewed a gentleman by the name of Jimmy today who said to me, ‘I need to know if I want to come and work for you’, and that’s really the situation that’s been reversed, isn’t- isn’t it?” said Evans.

According to a recent survey by the organization One Fair Wage, more than half of restaurant workers they spoke to said they were considering leaving or not returning to the industry. Cited low wages, COVID-related health risks, and customer hostility are their top three drivers.

Monday’s job fair may reflect this lack of interest; ABC7 saw only a handful of candidates.

Among them was Marlan Thompson, who worked at Windy City Ribs and will return next week.

“I love the restaurant business. Most of my jobs have been in restaurants and I loved that,” he said. “I learned a lot about the company. They gave me many opportunities to grow with them.”

Windy City Ribs and Whiskey managed to hire two people at Monday’s fair, but are still five people short before they can operate a full schedule.

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