Restaurateur hires former prisoners as staff in midst of labor shortage

Our Colorado: Staff shortage has many improvising

Editor's Note: 'Our Colorado' stories help natives and newcomers navigate the challenges related to our rapidly growing state, including real estate and development, homelessness, transportation and more. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at OurCO@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 'Our Colorado' stories here.

DENVER -- Our Colorado seems to be bursting at the seams with new housing, stores, and places to eat. But while there's plenty to do, there's not enough people to staff the places you want to go to. That has restaurant owners getting creative to stay ahead of the labor shortage, like hiring from unexpected labor pools including prisons and half-way houses.

Restaurateur Frank Bonanno, of Bonanno Concepts, had to think outside the box to find people to cook, wait tables and host at his newest of ten restaurants, Milk Market in downtown Denver.

"We got creative and we've worked (with) some of the inmates that have been released, like work-released prisoners that are non-violent offenders," said Bonanno.

He told Denver7 there is a severe shortage of labor that he attributes to several factors like the increased cost of housing and the rise of other industries.

"Housing in Denver is just becoming so expensive that we are pricing out what would be $17 an hour cooks who would no longer be able to live in Denver."

He said industries like construction and marijuana are now hiring from the same labor pool.

But the Colorado restaurant scene is thriving.

So far in 2018, it has generated $12B in revenue, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association. Conversely, every year roughly 200 restaurants open in the state, so each establishment is basically competing for workers.

"We are just growing so much as a city and I think that's amazing and I think there are so many talented chefs. The one biggest hurdle we all have is labor," said Bonanno.

It’s a challenge he believes that is providing unique opportunities for both his new restaurant and people wanting a fresh start.

"Why not give them a chance when you're looking for something? Maybe you can satisfy the same goal of helping them get back in and get back on their feet and helping us be successful," said Bonanno.

Print this article Back to Top