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Photo by Garth Guibord.
Area menus include staffing and supply shortages posted on 10/01/2021

Sunday night at dinner time and the Barlow Trail Roadhouse’s normally bustling dining room is empty with a “Closed” sign on the door. This scene played out several times over the summer, not as a result of state mandates or an outbreak of illness, but from a lack of prepared food to serve the public.

 

“We call it ‘Sold out Sundays.’ It’s five o’clock on Sunday and we’re out of food. Sorry to laugh, but it’s weird,” said Sue Exley, co-owner of the Barlow Trail Roadhouse in Welches.

Local restaurants have reported record sales since reopening for dining in the spring. The boom in business has presented new challenges as restaurant owners navigate supply chain issues, food cost increases and labor shortages all impacted by the pandemic. 

Local restaurateurs described frequently encountering empty shelves at the restaurant supply stores over the summer and having to go to as many as four or five different stores to get goods needed for their restaurants.

“The chef stores have been 33 percent empty (this season),” said Rick Exley, co-owner of the Barlow Trail Roadhouse.

Exley stated he’s driven the 60-mile round trip to Gresham to get menu items multiple times a week to stay up with customer demand.

Local restaurant owners stated that the restaurant food distributors that supply the area’s restaurants have struggled to make deliveries and have the same food shortages and price increases.

“The suppliers basically don’t have enough drivers and warehouse pickers,” said Tom Anderson, owner of the Rendezvous Grill in Welches.

Rick Exley stated a distributor he has worked with, Harbor Foodservice has ended service to the Mount Hood Region due to a lack of drivers. He added that other products he uses have been unavailable due to COVID-19 outbreaks at the production facilities.

“COVID-19 and quarantines are still hitting the big distributors,” Exley said.

Some in the community are shifting where they get their food in response to the shortages and to support the local community.

“We try as much as possible to get locally grown and produced goods to step away from the big box restaurant supplier,” said Robin Klein, owner of Al Forno Ferruzza in Rhododendron.

After operating for months with scaled-back crews offering mainly take out, local restaurants have found themselves understaffed for the surge in customer demand over the summer.

“We’re so busy we can’t keep up,” Sue Exley said. “It’s unprecedented; it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in 18 years.”

“We’re chronically short on labor,” Klein added.

Labor shortages during re-opening have been reported by restaurants nationwide. Mount Hood business owners noted the small labor pool in the community has amplified the issue in the region.

“It’s even more severe for us on the mountain,” Sue Exley said.

She also cited a lack of affordable housing for workers, extended unemployment benefits, childcare and workers transitioning to other more consistent employment as factors.

“People got tired of being the yo-yo on the string,” Exley added about the multiple shutdowns and re-openings of the region’s restaurants over the past year and a half.

The Rendezvous Grill has scaled back hours of operation to retain its core of long-term employees.

“We’ve held on to our basic staff that we’ve had for years and years,” Anderson said. “A restaurant is a human resources business. They cook it; they clean it, and they sell it. (By reducing hours of operation) we’ve been able to focus on our core crew.”

Mount Hood area restaurateurs cite lessons in adaptability learned from the highly seasonal nature of business as key for overcoming obstacles in the past year.

“What’s cool about the Mountain is that people are already adaptable. They’re ready to put on a jacket and eat outside. We’ve been able to adapt to new mandates, windstorms, fires and power outages and keep the business going,” Klein said.

“The public has been very supportive. We’re lucky to be in the community,” said Anderson. “We open at three and see what happens. It’s an adventure every day.”

By Ben Simpson/MT

 

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