CLEARFIELD COUNTY – Due to the COVID-19 crisis, 2020 was unkind to put it mildly, and a year that we can all be glad is behind us.
Even as we entered the New Year and spring, restaurants are one industry that continued to face public health and safety mandates and restrictions.
Indoor capacity was limited, patrons were required to wear facial coverings and so forth. And, still some patrons stuck to takeout or curbside pickup options.
Once state health officials saw improvements, restaurants were able to increase capacity and soon will reopen to 100 percent May 31.
Life is beginning to return to what we once knew as “normal,” with virus case numbers continuing to drop and vaccine numbers on the rise.
This may appear to be a victory, but new challenges are arising for restaurant owners who’ve had a long wait time to expand their services and hours of operation.
Now, there appears to be a staff shortage in the service- and restaurant-related industries, a side effect of and price paid for being unable to operate with a full staff.
Joe Wyant, training director for Valley Dairy in DuBois, shared excitement for the soon-to-be lifted COVID mandates and restrictions.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said, adding that “it’s been the longest year-and-a-half we and I have ever experienced in this business. We are getting staffed the best we can.”
He said they look forward to greeting and interacting once again with their more elderly customers who haven’t left home much over the past year or so.
“We like to check in with them and see how their families are doing,” Wyant said. “Our customers are really like family to us. We’re excited to see more this summer.”
While Valley Dairy and restaurants alike continue to look for potential staff, Fox’s Pizza of Clearfield has tried various outlets to fill openings.
Tom Knarr, who has been with the pizza shop for around 30 years, has always faced a high turnover, but COVID has made this the “toughest time” in his restaurant career.
“We are more of a takeout and delivery business with only around 20 percent of customers dining in,” he said. “Many don’t understand that we mostly have high school and college kids working here.
“If they aren’t looking for jobs, it affects how much help we have.” In May of 2020, Knarr had around 17 employees total, and now, he has around 12.
In addition, he said there’s a product shortage, as producers struggle to stock up warehouses, making it difficult to get pepperoni and chicken wings two times as expensive.
Undoubtedly, restaurant owners will continue to do their best to provide the best experience they can to customers in hopes of getting us all back to the dining experience we once knew.