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
“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
“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
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
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