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INTERACTIVE: As Richmond restaurant surge hits historic year, staffing remains an issue

Significantly more food establishments opened in the greater Richmond area this year than any other year this decade, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which grants health permits for businesses to operate. As the restaurant market grows, so does competition among food establishments — not only for customers, but for quality employees. 

Capital News Service

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By Mario Sequeira Quesada

Significantly more food establishments opened in the greater Richmond area this year than any other year this decade, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which grants health permits for businesses to operate. As the restaurant market grows, so does competition among food establishments — not only for customers, but for quality employees.

Since 2010, 62 food businesses have opened each year on average; this includes fast food, caterers, food trucks, full service restaurants and other small food service establishments such as coffee shops or daycare facility kitchens. But as of Dec. 4, the VDH had issued 133 health permits — more than double the average — for food-related businesses to begin operating this year. Many restaurant owners are aware of the increase, and not only has it challenged them to maintain high standards over the food they serve, it also raises the competition for hiring personnel.

Employment of food preparation and serving personnel in Richmond increased 15% from 2010 to 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, restaurants and food establishments in Richmond employed nearly 54,000 people to work in the kitchen, wait tables, bartend or host — and they’re still hiring.

“There just aren’t enough people to work in the service industry,” said Jeff Allums, owner of Baja Bean Co., which closed a location in Richmond in October and operates another in Staunton. “There’s still a lot of great professionals around and quality of food is not necessarily the issue as much as when you talk service and things like that.”

Allums attributes this issue to a series of cultural and technological developments that have impacted the restaurant industry. He also recognizes that market growth offers more opportunities for employment, therefore restaurants are competing for the same personnel, and in some cases, several establishments have to share employees.

“There are a lot of places where they’ll have a bartender come in for one shift a week and then he’ll go to another bar for another day of the week,” he said. Allums said some restaurants have to use platforms like Snagajob, which allow owners to hire staff for a certain amount of time on a specific date, without knowing the person and having to pay a higher rate. “Even though services are changing the way people work, there’s no loyalty as a 40-hour work week.”

At the same time, Allums said food delivery apps like Uber Eats and Doordash attract some members of the population restaurants seek to hire, like high school and college students. The flexibility of working on their own time and for as long as they want are opportunities that the restaurant industry cannot always grant. So now, the competition for personnel is not only among local restaurants, but also among popular online services. Although food delivery may seem promising for a business, it can also negatively affect their operation and reputation and benefit fast-food establishments.

The typical restaurant does not do take-out well because the food doesn’t taste as good when it’s eaten 20 or more minutes after it’s ready, Allums said. “You order an enchilada platter for me or something, it’s not as good unless it’s less than two minutes away from the kitchen,” he said. “In 2018, I was doing about $600 – $700 a week in Uber sales, and that is when all of the sudden McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, started to do those Doordash things and it plummeted.”

Popular restaurant groups like RVA Hospitality, which owns four restaurants — Bar Solita, Max’s on Broad, Tarrant’s Cafe and Tarrant’s West — are not exempt from the insufficient labor force. Co-owner Liz Kincaid categorized finding high-quality staff as one of the most important issues that restaurants currently face, mainly because people are joining the workforce at an older age compared to years ago, reducing the total pool of potential employees.

“The fact is, you know, you let someone go, they’re going to walk across the street and get a job tomorrow,” Kincaid said. “The cards are in the employees’ hands, and I think in previous generations it may have been the other way, that big businesses or the business owner would have had an upper hand.”

Both Allums and Kincaid mentioned that teenagers and young adults are not seeking jobs in the restaurant industry as often as in the past. This situation is a reality around the country and is expected to become a larger trend, according to the National Restaurant Association’s Research and Knowledge Group. In a report released in November, the data shows that from 2008 to 2018 there was a decrease of 1 million employees ages 16 to 19. Last year, 5.9 million people in that range worked for food establishments, and the association expects that number to drop to 5.1 million by 2028. The working population of 20-to-24-year-olds is expected to drop participation in the industry by half a million during the same period.

Volume of employees is important, but the issue becomes more prominent when addressing a lack of quality workers. Relationship marketing expert and founder of the PRO Business Group Support in Richmond, Michael Short, also believes that finding quality staff is one of the top three challenges restaurants face in Richmond — along with marketing strategy and high competition.

Nobody wants to work as a server anymore, Short said. He said employees tend to feel discouraged by the uncertainty in scheduling — especially when they’re scheduled to work on traditionally slow nights — and not knowing how much money they could make each day.

“If you’re the server or the bartender scheduled for Monday or Tuesday night, you’re going to work making almost no money and it’s hard to keep employees excited and enthused about their job,” Short said. “As a server … you’re generally not paid a significant hourly wage and you really rely on the tips. And a lot of times, folks forget that and it’s hard to find people that they want to work.”

Another factor that affects the employees’ enthusiasm, especially early after entering the business, is the unrealistic expectations of the job.

Most new employees don’t realize how much hard work it is to serve in a restaurant, according to Jimmy Tsamouras, owner and chef of Dot’s Back Inn and Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen. “They think it might be easy, and then they get into it and realize how grueling and how hard it is, and they get turned off by it,” he said.

Restaurant server and bartender Carlee Morse also said the job is harder than people expect, but time and experience have helped her become more efficient and perform better. She is one of the employees restaurants have to share. Morse, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, managed to have a full-time job combining her shifts at Metro Bar & Grill and Tang & Biscuit in order to pay for rent, utilities and groceries.

Although she enjoys her job, she admits that it can be overwhelming due to understaffing and high clientele. Morse said sometimes she waits tables for over 60 people at the same time by herself. She said in some cases new employees start working and a few weeks later they leave the restaurant.

Morse considered other options for work, like Uber Eats, but her interests are clear. “I personally like serving because you can make connections with people you meet on the job, which helps a lot later down the road,” she said.

When it comes to getting a job as a server, Morse believes it is not an easy road but said restaurants might be having issues because of their hiring strategies.

“I don’t think restaurants do a good job about letting people know they are hiring,” Morse said. “Both of my jobs, I got just from calling around, not from seeing an ad or anything like that. A lot of times you have to seek it out yourself, instead of like normal big companies where they will put ads out and say they are hiring.”

Richmond restaurants employed 16% of the total food preparing and serving personnel in 2018 in Virginia, according to the BLS. This labor group is the third biggest in Richmond, just behind office and administrative support, and sales-related occupations. The years 2012 and 2016 saw the biggest percentage increase in food preparation and serving employment, with 8% and 5% growth, respectively.

In a more general scope, over 15,500 food and beverage businesses operated in Virginia in 2018, according to a review of the National Restaurant Association. The total sales in the commonwealth exceeded $18 billion last year. The study estimates that the industry currently offers over 378,000 jobs including all food preparing and serving positions, managerial and administrative roles. This number is expected to increase another 10% in the state over the next decade.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Richmond Region Tourism launches Tourism Master Plan during annual meeting

The Master Plan, “Richmond Region 2030, A Strategic Direction for the Richmond’s Visitor Economy,” was developed in 2019 with extensive feedback and input from the community. Consultants asked questions of key stakeholders during 115 interviews and surveyed 1,000 visitors and 2,100 residents, and hosted 50 people in visioning workshops. 

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At its Annual Awards and Meeting program last Friday, Richmond Region Tourism introduced its tourism master plan, a 10-year strategic vision to enhance the region’s visitor experience while balancing the quality of life for residents. The virtual event, organized via Zoom, also included an awards program and updates from national expert Adam Sacks on tourism trends and COVID-19 economic recovery predictions.

The Master Plan, “Richmond Region 2030, A Strategic Direction for the Richmond’s Visitor Economy,” was developed in 2019 with extensive feedback and input from the community. Consultants asked questions of key stakeholders during 115 interviews and surveyed 1,000 visitors and 2,100 residents, and hosted 50 people in visioning workshops.

The 10-year plan aims to responsibly grow the region’s tourism industry while supporting quality of life for all residents. It includes three initial focus areas:

  • Experience development: Enhancing and developing tourism experiences within the Richmond region that meet the needs of contemporary travelers.
  • Infrastructure and investment: Investing in facilities and infrastructure to maintain, refresh, and upgrade the existing tourism experience, addressing gaps and capitalizing on future growth opportunities.
  • Industry advancement and advocacy: Devoting capacity, influence, skills, and resources to projects aligned with the mission of marketing the region as a destination, while at the same time advancing initiatives that improve the destination experience for visitors and residents.

“The Richmond Region 2030 plan takes a strategic and community-based approach to defining an overarching vision and competitive positioning for our region as a destination,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “This is an exciting roadmap for the future of our region. We look forward to actively engaging and listening to the community as we move forward with the plan and its priorities in the years to come.”

Richmond Region Tourism’s annual meeting also showcased local leaders for their contributions to tourism and the economy.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Director Alex Nyerges and former Hanover County Administrator Cecil R. “Rhu” Harris Jr. received the Tourism Impact Award, the highest honor given each year. Both were recognized for their long-term and significant impacts to the region’s tourism industry.

Members from the BLK RVA Action Team – Enjoli Moon (chair), Josh Epperson, Amy Wentz, and Free Bangura – were honored with the Chairman’s Award, given to a person or organization who has made the greatest contribution during the previous year. BLK RVA is a collaborative initiative between Richmond Region Tourism and an advisory board of community members focused on developing unique ways to attract tourism while highlighting Richmond’s Black culture and businesses.

As part of the meeting, Adam Sacks, president of research firm Tourism Economics, highlighted data trends and economic rebound strategies to support COVID-19 economic recovery.

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Kickstarter-funded Ruby Scoops ice cream shop to open on Brookland Park Boulevard later this fall

“We’re trying to create memories, and we’re trying to create moments in your life that you will always remember that kind of stem from what we make,” Kamara said.

RVAHub Staff

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From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Rabia Kamara recalls drinking a sweet, sugary Colombian beverage as a 5-year-old in Silver Spring, Md. It wasn’t until she was at an international market over 25 years later that she came across the beverage again and fell in love with it anew.

Kamara wants to create similar memories for customers at her ice cream shop, Ruby Scoops Ice Cream and Sweets, which is in the works on Richmond’s Brookland Park Boulevard in North Side. There, Kamara plans to add a unique spin on ice cream flavors, with twists such as Peaches N’ Herb, Sweet Corn Basil and Lemon Honey Chamomile.

“We’re trying to create memories, and we’re trying to create moments in your life that you will always remember that kind of stem from what we make,” Kamara said.

Continue reading here.

Want to kick in to the Ruby Scoops Kickstarter? You can do that here.

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CEO of Richmond-based Elephant Insurance’s parent company gifting employees $13 million

As a thank you to all the staff at Admiral and Elephant Insurance who have made his 29 years with the company so special, David Stevens and his wife, Heather will give £1,000 to every full-time member of staff and £500 to all other staff. For employees in the United States, this equates to around $1,300 for full-time employees and $650 for part-time employees.

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David Stevens, CEO and co-founder of Elephant Insurance’s parent company, Admiral Group, announced yesterday he will give a personal gift of around $13 million to over 11,000 employees ahead of his retirement.

As a thank you to all the staff at Admiral and Elephant Insurance who have made his 29 years with the company so special, David Stevens and his wife, Heather will give £1,000 to every full-time member of staff and £500 to all other staff. For employees in the United States, this equates to around $1,300 for full-time employees and $650 for part-time employees.

“Saying thank you to all the Admiral staff in this way is the right thing to do, and I’m so proud and fortunate to have worked with such a special group of people,” said David Stevens, CEO and co-found of Admiral. “Their hard work and dedication has allowed Admiral to grow from a start-up with one brand, zero customers and 57 members of staff, to a FTSE 100 company worth around £8 billion with multiple brands, millions of customers and over 11,000 staff worldwide. Thank you from myself and my wife to everyone at Admiral.”

All Admiral staff, whether they work in Richmond or Rome, Newport or Delhi and everywhere in-between, will benefit from the gift.

“Today and every day, we are so appreciative to work for a company under the Admiral umbrella,” said Alberto Schiavon, CEO of Elephant Insurance. “David Stevens’ generosity will impact all of Elephant’s more than 630 employees, most of whom are here in Richmond. We wish him well in this new stage of life and look forward to welcoming Admiral’s new CEO, Milena Mondini de Focatiis.”

For more information about Elephant Insurance, visit www.elephant.com.

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