Worker shortage having big impact on Michigan restaurants, customers

Survey shows slow-down of rebound in Michigan’s hospitality industry

A nationwide worker shortage is hitting Metro Detroit restaurants hard, with many struggling to keep operations going as normal -- and some even raising prices for customers to offset costs.
A nationwide worker shortage is hitting Metro Detroit restaurants hard, with many struggling to keep operations going as normal -- and some even raising prices for customers to offset costs.

DETROIT – The hospitality industry in Michigan is one of several struggling with a nationwide worker shortage.

A new survey released by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association shows a significant slow-down of any rebound that the industry so desperately needs. Officials say businesses have seen a decline in profit, indoor dining and -- most importantly -- labor, threatening restaurants’ sustainability.

Downtown Detroit’s famous Hudson Cafe, on Woodward Avenue, has been no stranger to the worker shortage plaguing businesses across Metro Detroit and beyond. The popular breakfast and lunch spot is celebrating its tenth year in business this year, but now with fewer workers.

“My staff is absolutely exhausted, and I do thank them for their hard work,” said Hudson Cafe owner Tom Teknos.

According to Teknos, the restaurant needs about 35 or 36 staff members to operate smoothly. Right now, they have only 28 employees.

Teknos has thanked his existing staff in a number of ways, from offering bonuses for their hard work, to increasing their hourly wage. To help his staff while also looking for new hires, the restaurant owner pledged even bigger bonuses for those who help him find new employees.

“I offered them $500 a person to bring somebody in,” Teknos said. “If they stayed 30 days, I give them an additional $500, and $1,000 for the people that just started. They had to stay a minimum of 60 days.”

But, surprisingly, the generous offer did not work. Teknos said he received 37 or 38 applicants, but only two showed up for interviews. Both of those candidates were hired on the spot, but then never showed up for their first day of work, Teknos said.

Nearby in Dearborn, the owners of Rex’s Golden Grill are experiencing the same problem.

“You’re just not getting any applications,” said owner John Mourtos. “Whether you put it online, however you do it, you’re not getting new people to come in to apply. I’ve been looking for a line cook for a year and a half.”

The family restaurant is co-owned by Mourtos and his brother. They’re currently short about five employees, and have offered similar incentives to what Teknos has offered at Hudson Cafe.

One thing Mourtos says the restaurant won’t do is sacrifice the quality of service or food because of the staff shortage.

“The stress kicks in when at the peak hours; when you wanna make sure you can take care of the customers that you have who are in here placing carry-outs or ordering on DoorDash,” said Mourtos. “Everybody just picks up the slack.”

In some instances, the costs of bonuses and higher wages are passed on to the customer through higher food prices. Hudson Cafe has had to raise prices by 35%, but, often times, the restaurant just takes the financial hit.

“Customers have been completely understanding,” Teknos said. “Obviously, I can only pass the additional food costs onto the consumer for so long. After this, I kind of hit my breaking point, like, I cannot go up any higher.”

Both restaurants are doing well financially, adjusting to the current situation, and are thankful to continue to provide a service their customers know and love.

“I got into this business because I love taking care of customers,” Teknos said. “I don’t want to come in and have professional order takers take your order, drop off the food and they’re done. We like giving the whole dining experience, and hopefully that doesn’t get lost ... I think that’s the direction we’re going in, if we don’t start picking up new staff.”

If you are looking for a job and have experience in the restaurant industry, Hudson Cafe and Rex’s Golden Grill are hiring -- sometimes on the spot with competitive wages. Stop on by and fill out an application.

Side note: If you ever visit Hudson Cafe, be sure to order the Cinnabon pancakes -- they’re a fan favorite!


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About the Authors:

Evrod Cassimy is the morning anchor for Local 4 News Today. He joined WDIV in August of 2013. He is an award winning journalist and a six-time Emmy Award nominee. Evrod was born in Michigan but grew up in the Chicagoland area.