MISSOULA – This time last year, the Iron Horse Brew Pub reduced operations due to the pandemic.
But even as the world pulls back from closing, general manager Todd Engel told MTN News that the restaurant continues to face difficulties.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “We were making pickles and biscuits and selling everything we could sideways just to make sure we could get through what was going on and it was hard, but sometimes it was easier than what we have to do now,” Engel said.
Unemployment in Missoula is declining. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics shows a steady decline in unemployed individuals from January to May this year, which tells us that people are returning to work.
Despite this, the local food industry is struggling to fill jobs. A quick search for “hiring food right away” on the hiring website actually shows 150 new jobs posted in the last two weeks in Missoula alone.
And like many local restaurants in town, Iron Horse may not function as normal. The roof deck and private holiday room remain closed – there is simply not enough staff to accommodate customers at full capacity. To attract workers, the business increased its wages.
“We have had to return a lot of parties and be addressed, it is like returning money,” Engel said. “So we are hiring for dishwashers, buses, exhibitions, line cookers and servers.”
The Iron Horse normally opens every day of the week, but that also changes. A final decision to close Tuesday gives staff a day to breathe, and when the doors open it is busy.
“Our Mondays have been crazy. “Our Mondays are like a Saturday night,” Engel said.
According to the Montana Works government website, there are 10,000 fewer Montanais in the workforce today than there were in early 2019.
On June 27, Governor Gianforte ended Montana’s participation in the CARES ACT unemployment benefit that extended benefits by $ 300 a week. To compensate for that change, the state began providing $ 1,200 Return to Work bonuses. So far this program has distributed over $ 100,000.
When asked about this program, Engel said it did not help; “It seems he really did not bring people here.”
Engel said interviews are lost every week, another problem the state made efforts to fix last week with a new announcement.
“We have recently heard from employers across the state with a common complaint: candidates for open positions submit applications and schedule interviews, just to take advantage of it,” Governor Gianforte said in a statement.
But Engel said one hurdle for that reporting system is that it’s time. The state requires employers to complete detailed documentation for each missed interview.
“I am washing the dishes to make sure we are operating. “I actually do not have time to stop and call for 10 people who did not show up for their interviews,” Engel said.
The reporting system is intended to address unemployment fraud, so it would only apply to claimants.
To accommodate the extra work needed, staff at Iron Horse are taking on additional tasks.
“Some of them are really nice, some of them you can tell our staff who have grown up and want to make it work. And they will say, ‘okay. I’ll not give advice. today, while I’m serving, I’ll go back and wash the dishes, ‘and that’s wonderful. It can be difficult when you do it constantly, “Engel explained.
Unfortunately, the difficulties do not stop with the lack of workers. Food supply chains are unpredictable as the industry generally pulls out of outages last year.
“The trucks will come later, things are missing in the trucks,” Engel said. “We are having trouble getting chicken, shrimp, fish.”
Engel told us he thinks rising supply costs will certainly affect menu prices across the industry.
“People will have to change their prices. I mean, you can not function the same when you are all paying more money and paying more money for food. Everything will have to go up,” Engel said. .
MTN News will continue to track this emerging economic history.