Restaurants face ‘ugly challenge’ from omicron, staffing

Coronavirus

Shine Distillery operating now on limited hours

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Before the pandemic, January and February were notorious as the worst months for restaurants. Now, with it being January and the omicron variant running wild in the US, the restaurant industry is hurting.

On this Monday night, Shine Distillery owner Jon Poteet sits in his 7000 square-foot bar and restaurant with 206 seats — all empty.

He said they used to be open 7 days a week, including for lunch and brunch. These days, his establishment is only open Wednesday through Sunday for only 6 hours, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“It’s the phone calls when people call and say, ‘Hey are you open today?’ and it’s a Sunday at 11 a.m. and I have to say, ‘Nope, we’re closed, unfortunately,'” Poteet said.

Owner Jon Poteet in his Shine Distillery in North Portland, January 10, 2022 (KOIN)

They were forced to stop Saturday and Sunday brunch in October because they didn’t have enough cooks. Things have not gotten better. The restaurant is already short-staffed on top of 2 employees who are in quarantine this week.

But Poteet said it’s not just the highly contagious omicron variant that has many restaurants on the edge of shuttering.

“Between the lack of staffing, shorter hours, people doing their New Year’s resolutions and then you sprinkle some omicron on top of that and it’s one really ugly challenge for a lot of restaurants right now,” he said. “Financially I think you’re going to see a lot of restaurants closing in the next month or two.”

Inflation and the rising cost of food is also an issue.

“The supply chain has started to correct itself,” he told KOIN 6 News. “However the pricing on most of the proteins in particular has absolutely skyrocketed. We were paying $27 a bag for chicken wings. We’re now paying $54. It’s doubled.”

The booze they bottle provides some extra revenue, but it’s not enough by itself to keep the lights on.

Shine Distillery Grill. (Photo: Wesley Lapointe)

“The government is not stepping up,” he said. “We’re going to be dependent on our customer base to show up and support us. Otherwise we will not get through.”

A dozen parties that were on Shine Distillery’s calendar this month have been canceled. Poteet said that’s more than 580 guests that won’t be served.

Congress, he said, needs to replenish the Restaurant Revitalizations Fund — and that’s something the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association is also pushing for.

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