Chicago-area restaurants desperate for workers as state, city prepare reopen; WH touts job growth

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As businesses in Chicago and across Illinois ready to fully reopen next week, some fear they will not be able to handle the demand as they desperately try to hire workers.

"Right now the staff that I do have are working 12, 14 hour days, doubles, back to back," said Jodi Agee, owner of Jefferson Tap and Grille in the West Loop.

Agee said finding workers, even as the economy ramps up, has never been harder.

"It's really becoming unmanageable, and I'm burning out my staff, the staff that I have," Agee said.

Agee said she is grateful her business survived the COVID-19 pandemic and is looking forward to the city's full reopening next week, but she still has to close early every day because she doesn't have the staff to stay open.

"We're understaffed on the floor, we're understaffed in the kitchen, so patience is the word of the day," Agee said.

That fear exists not just in Chicago but at retail and restaurant businesses in suburban La Grange, also desperate for workers. Nearly every business in the downtown stretch is hiring.

"We're looking for all kinds of help. We're looking for part time, we're looking for full time," said John Rot, owner of Hortons Home Lighting & Ace Hardware.

The White House touted large gains in the restaurant and hospitality sector while acknowledging getting back to a new normal will take time, even as the state fully reopens next week.

"Economies don't go from zero and a shutdown to 60 miles per hour in a recovery. It takes months, it can even take some quarters," said Jared Bernstein, White House economic adviser.

However, the White House Press secretary evaded questions on whether extra unemployment benefits are impacting worker recruitment.

Meanwhile, in suburban Berwyn, Juice Vibe Bar is relying on family members and a few recent graduates to meet demand.

"We're just trying to get more people actually," said Michelle Martinez, Juice Vibe Bar manager.
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