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Restaurant industry exodus leaves owners scrambling to regain staff

As Sacramento gets to the red tier, restaurant owners are facing a race to fill the gaps in their employee rosters after losing staff throughout the shutdown.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — With Sacramento County expected to enter the less restrictive red tier, restaurants will may soon able to open indoors at 25% capacity by Wednesday. Restaurant owners are now facing a race to fill the gaps in their employee rosters after losing staff throughout the shutdown. 

"It's very frustrating," said Sacramento and Davis restaurant owner, Randy Paragary. "People have to make a living, so what we're seeing in the industry is a lot of people changed from restaurant work to something else."

Paragary owns Cafe Bernardo, Paragary's Midtown and Centro Cocina Mexicana. He says he was forced to close the doors to all of his restaurants four times over the last year. 

Employee scheduling had depended on the weather through the winter months since dining outside had been the only option. Paragary says the uncertainty and lack of reliability made it difficult for people in the restaurant industry. 

"The industry, quite frankly, it let people down in that regard and put employers in a very tough position," explained Molly Hawks, the co-owner of Hawks Provisions Public House in Sacramento and Hawks in Granite Bay. 

Hawks said she too has seen many leaving the industry. 

"They don’t feel like they've got job security in the hospitality industry because it was so easily shut down on us," she explained.

As Sacramento County is on its way to a less restrictive tier that would allow indoor dining at 25% capacity, both Hawks and Paragary are taking on the task of getting staffed ahead of expanded their seating. 

"Historically when you place an ad for line cooks or even a supervisory position, we get a lot of applicants or responses," she explained. "There's been several times in the past few weeks where we've posted a job ad and there's no replies."

Paragary is facing the same difficulties.

"It’s a supply and demand business, there's a lot of demand for new restaurant workers and supply has decreased," he explained. 

According to The California Restaurant Association, statewide, nearly one million restaurant jobs were lost in the last year, although many have come back as restaurants have been allowed to partially re-open. 

As many restaurant workers left the industry to pursue other work, Hawks said it was a good time for others in the industry to claim new opportunities. 

"For young ambitious cooks or front of house staff who always dreamed of working in a particular restaurant, now would be the time to pursue that because there's a better chance of getting in somewhere right now probably than there ever had," she explained. 

WATCH NEXT: Are Sacramento businesses ready to move to the red tier?

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