Chicago restaurants continue to struggle to hire cooks and wait staff amid economic rebound

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CHICAGO – The July jobs report is promising, showing the economy recovering and hiring accelerating, but restaurants are still hurting workers.

Friday will be another long night at Norman’s Bistro for Chef Juan. Once again, he is one of only three working in the kitchen. Norman Bolden, the owner of the restaurant, spent weeks looking for more cooks but just couldn’t find someone to hire for the job.

“So much effort has been put in, very little interest has been shown,” he said. “I can’t speak to asking why, but people aren’t interested in working right now for some reason.”

Bolden said while his Kenwood restaurant was able to keep most of its customers during the pandemic, staffing remains a serious issue. He hasn’t just lost three cooks, he has to double his team of five servers.

“We’re challenged, that’s what we are, but we get by. We operate with very little. It has been a real challenge to hire,” said Bolden.

Bolden said he had heard other companies still had problems as July employment exceeded expectations, in part thanks to the hotel and restaurant industry.

And while all current employees at Norman’s Bistro are vaccinated and continue to wear masks indoors, Bolden remains concerned about the re-emergence of COVID-19 through the highly contagious delta variant.

“Can I start over? He wondered. “I’m not sure but I’m hopeful, hoping we don’t have to go in this direction.”

Businesses like this hope there will be more interest in finding work after the aid programs end, by then neighborhood restaurants will do their best to survive.

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