With vaccines readily available, there appears to be a light at the end of the COVID tunnel for Miami and the rest of the country. But even as Miami's restaurant scene is booming, pandemic-induced complications are continuing to cause long-term problems.
The biggest challenge, it seems, is staffing.
The owners of Ch'i, a restaurant by Breakwater Hospitality Group (the Wharf Miami, the Wharf Fort Lauderdale, Rivertail, and The Piefather) and Grove Bay Hospitality Group (Glass and Vine, Red Rooster Overtown, Mi'talia, Stiltsville Fish Bar, Root & Bone, Stubborn Seed, and Public Square), need to fill 125 new positions at their new restaurant.
The restaurant is set to open in Brickell in the next few weeks. To ensure they're fully staffed, they're offering $1,000 bonuses to all new front- and back-of-house employees.
Few strings are attached. New employees must be hired before Ch'i opens and they must work at least 90 days to earn the bonus.
Emi Guerra, cofounder of Breakwater Hospitality Group and a partner in Ch'i, says the shortage of hospitality-industry workers isn't limited to Miami. "It's really a national problem. Everyone in the hospitality industry speaks to each other, and this is a universal problem."
Guerra says that when the pandemic hit, employees at restaurants, bars, clubs, and hotels were the hardest hit. Some filed for unemployment and are still collecting, while others have moved on to other cities or other jobs. "People had to make career changes. That's something to do with the lack of talented candidates."
Now, with vaccines readily available, Guerra believes workers may feel safer to get back into the world. "I really do encourage our workers to get the vaccine, though we are not requiring them to. But we hope that with the vaccine, they will feel safer, and I think that's great."
Though Guerra didn't have figures in front of him when New Times called, he did say that Ch'i's pay rates are "competitive for the industry — both for back of house and front of house. Our goal is to retain people."
He admits, though, that the shortage of workers makes it hard on his current employees. "The staff we have is putting in overtime and taking more tables. It's tougher on them as a whole."
The answer, he says, is to give new employees an incentive to work at Ch'i. "We want to hire the right people. We also want to hire enough people so that we can provide the level of service that we think is vital for our guests."
So far, the bonus incentive is working. About half of the 125 new jobs at Ch'i are filled — but more than 60 open positions remain.
Guerra hopes to fill those roles at Ch'i's upcoming job fair, scheduled for this Thursday, May 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Applicants who can't make it to the job fair can fill out an online application at chibrickell.com. Guerra promises that qualified applicants will receive a call back by the next day.
The Ch'i partner says that once all hiring is done, training will start and then — and only then — will an opening date be set. "We're responsible operators and we need to make sure everyone received the right training. If the kitchen's not right, we'll wait another week or so."
The restaurant's buildout is nearly finished. "The garden is being decorated as we speak, and some details are being tweaked, but we're very near ready to open," Guerra says.
He describes the space as "magic," with "four different immersive and inclusive experiences under one roof."
Mainly, Guerra wants to just swing open the doors. "We've been working on this since before the pandemic. It's exciting to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. It's time to get to work."
Ch’i at Brickell City Centre. 701 S. Miami Ave., #339a, Miami; chibrickell.com. Opening spring 2021.
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