Manny Perales, owner of Yosemite Falls Cafe. Photo by Edward Smith

published on July 23, 2021 - 12:01 PM
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The well-documented struggle to keep restaurants fully staffed has led to a loss of business hours and even closures for days at a time.

Manuel Perales, owner of Yosemite Falls Cafe, runs four locations that are all in need of more workers. But the location on Ashlan Avenue and Highway 99 had to close for two days a few weeks ago for lack of kitchen staff. 

Perales said he only had two cooks for the whole day, and usually there are between four and five during the day, and another two at night. 

“It wouldn’t have been fair for the customers or the workers that were there,” he said. 

Originally the restaurant was only going to close on a Sunday but it was extended to Monday when it had the same issues. In order to have a healthy amount of workers, he needs to hire five per location — 20 in all. 

He said he has survived because of his loyal employees, some of whom have stayed for 15 years even after graduating college. The Facebook post about the restaurant closure has since been deleted because of harassment from commenters, telling Perales he doesn’t pay his workers enough money.

Yosemite Falls pays fair and doesn’t take advantage of lower income employees, he said. 

“We have a good core of employees that have been with us for a while,” he said. “Without them, we would never have been able to open.” 

He said the cafe is closing earlier and opening later. The Ashlan Avenue and Highway 99 location closes at 3 p.m., which has shaved six hours off the original operating hours. Typically the cafes would operate 16 to 18 hours a day. 

Employers are raising hourly pay for kitchen staff — a trend that keeps other restaurant owners on their toes as they try to keep their cooks from being poached.

“Kitchen staff is making more than they’ve ever made,” Perales said.  

Perales attributes the problem to pandemic-era unemployment benefits, which handed out an extra $600 a month, then shrunk to $300, which he said is still significant. 

“If you make four grand to stay at home, why would you want to go to work?” he said.

He said the restaurant ran ads on, scheduled 11 or 12 interviews and no one would show up. Many searching for jobs only like to commit 15 or less hours, which Perales believes is because unemployment benefits still get handed out for working a couple shifts per week. 

Those extra benefits are expected to end in September.

“I have a feeling we’ll start getting people back the last quarter of this year,” he said.

In the meantime, overhead costs are rising, and every product that comes through the back door is up 80% to 100%, Perales said.

Jay Virk, president of Bottom-Line Development, and his partner and co-owner AJ Binning, are opening a restaurant called Dough Boys Pizzeria in Clovis at 255 N Clovis Ave. south of Herndon Avenue. The restaurant was supposed to open at the end of May and is now scheduled to open July 23, subject to staffing levels. 

“He hasn’t been able to open for almost a month, and he’s been sitting ready because we couldn’t find labor,” Virk said. 

Virk said he’s had to reach out to people they know personally in order to get the restaurant off the ground. 

“Luckily because of our good relations we’ve been able to get some staff members back,” Virk said.

Dough Boys Pizzeria is paying workers from $16 to $20 an hour. Virk said the restaurant barely survives at $14 an hour. 

“It took him a month and he finally has a staff together, which is a skeleton crew — not even a full crew,” he said.

It put them behind schedule, costing them a month of rent, inventory, bills and utilities with no revenue to offset costs. 

Like Perales, he witnesses people handing in resumes and not showing for interviews. Some have shown up one day for training and not come in again. 

“It’s hard for business owners, but it’s more of a moral problem,” Virk said, saying he believes people are taking free handouts.

Raising hourly pay attracts employees, but business owners suffer the consequences of higher cost of business operations. Labor costs are normally 20% and now they’re at 30%, Virk said.

“It’s like a government-made wage increase without actually having to pass a law,” he said. 

Shipment and equipment costs are also adding to the growing overhead, he said. 

But every time there is any sort of economic uncertainty, he said, “We always use our pivot foot.”

With a staff of six, they will open with a limited menu, which includes only 30 flavors of wings instead of the original 99. It will also have four sandwiches instead of 10, and after 90 days they will grow their standard pizza menu to offer more specialty flavors. 

“We’re making our rent payment still, even if we’re not open,” Virk said. 

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