Restaurant jobs fair in Bronzeville hopes to bring staff back to eateries

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A dozen restaurants partnered up for a jobs fair in Bronzeville Monday, hoping to bring staff back as they get ready to fully reopen.

Windy City Ribs and Whiskey, just a stone's throw from McCormick Place, would usually be open for lunch on a Monday afternoon. But even with the grill fired up, the restaurant can't get back to its normal schedule just yet.

"We had to make those kinds of adjustments because, although we have the demand to come in, we do not have the staff to be able to serve them. That's the challenge," said Terri Evans, owner.

All of the restaurants at the job fair hope the promise of higher wages, which includes full minimum wage even for tipped employees, will lure people back into an industry that has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and which is now facing a severe labor shortage.

"I interviewed a gentleman today named Jimmy who said, 'I need to figure out if I want to come work for you,' and that's really the tables are turned, right?" Evans said.

According to a recent survey conducted by the One Fair Wage organization, more than half of restaurant workers they spoke to said they are considering leaving or not going back into the industry. The cited low wages, COVID health risks and hostility from customers as their three main factors.

Monday's job fair might reflect that lack of interest; ABC7 only saw a handful of applicants there.

Among them was Marlan Thompson, who used to work at Windy City Ribs and will return next week.

"I love the restaurant field. Most of my jobs have been in restaurants and I liked it," he said. "I learned a lot about the business. They gave me plenty of opportunity to grow with them."

Windy City Ribs and Whiskey managed to hire two people at Monday's fair, but are still five people short before they can operate a full schedule.
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