Labor shortage impacts Colorado restaurants and food industry

Businesses challenged to fill jobs and add people

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DENVER – Restaurants and others in the food industry are having to make adjustments as the state of Colorado continues to see record-low unemployment.

“Everything we’ve been hearing from our members, (they) have been saying, 'How do we find more workers? We need more people to be working in our establishments,'” said Carolyn Livingston, the spokeswoman for the Colorado Restaurant Association.

The struggle appears to be industry-wide. As the owner of “Grateful Bread,” baker Jeff Cleary is looking for more people to bake the bread.

"Good cooks are hard to find. Bakers are even harder to find,” said Cleary.

After 14 years in operation, his company did something bold. It stopped the ovens for nearly three weeks so it could hire and train more people and to give his existing team members a break.  His retail location was also put on a hiatus.

"It might just better to pull the band aid off now and stop and take a break," he said. "It was a very tough decision because it happened so fast." 

 There are nearly 12,000 restaurants in Colorado. About 280,000 people work in them. That's about one-tenth of our workforce.

As our city grows, more people are choosing to go out to eat.

That, combined with a short supply of workers, is forcing establishments to be creative. Some are offering a stake in ownership.

"They're really working on their company culture, they're talking about bonuses, they're talking about employment retreats," said Livingston.

The food industry is looking at automation. But there are some things like bread that need hands, fueling a push toward vocational education.

"If you're good at it, bakers are very difficult to find, so people will pay good money. When you get your skills down and you're trained, good bakers are very, very difficult to find," said Cleary.

Yet Cleary is having some luck. He's now able to hire more people, fill his orders and reopen the store so the breads and his business can rise.

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