By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Richards Restaurant in Warsaw survived the pandemic but appears to be a victim of the national labor crisis.
The steady, quiet staple that’s had a presence along US 30 in Warsaw for at least four decades is closing Thursday, May 13.
There were no signs on the front door announcing the closure Friday mid-morning, and business was brisk with waitresses overseeing at least a dozen tables.
Manager Lisa McCoy said the problem is simple. She can’t hire enough people to operate the store seven days a week, including evenings.
She said it takes about 20-25 employees to fully operate a store. They had to discontinue evening hours recently and were down to 13 employees on Friday.
“It’s just sad. I think we’re not the only ones,” McCoy said, referencing other restaurants. “If we could get people to work, we’d be here.”
“We want to say thank you to all our customers,” McCoy said, noting that they’ve been “busy-busy-busy” in recent weeks.
“We have the business. We have no help.”
She’s been with Richards for about eight years and became manager three years ago.
She said the problem with finding enough help has been an issue for a while, but it’s been more acute and widespread in the last two months.
Indeed, even as the restaurant industry revs up and gains traction as COVID-19 cases decline, many restaurants are struggling to find workers. As a result, restaurants have been forced to make changes that some find hard to see unfolding.
Some stores have cut hours, changed to drive-thru only or closed sporadically and unexpectedly. Staffing is so low at numerous businesses that managers are updating fans on Facebook – almost daily in some cases – about adjustments in hours or short-term closings.
McCoy suspects those who might normally be working are instead choosing to draw unemployment, which for some, is more than what they would make in the workforce. She said she knows people who are doing it.
“The government needs to stop bringing all that unemployment,” she said.
Her complaint – that another new round of extra relief has become a disincentive for workers – is one that’s gaining national attention and a popular grievance being aired on Facebook.
She said she heard earlier in the day that one state was going to cut off the additional aid and hinted that she hoped other governors would consider it.
Ironically, by Friday afternoon, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed the growing complaint and announced two moves.
Holcomb said he will seek to reinstate the Department of Workforce Development’s requirement that unemployment insurance claimants actively seek employment and be available for work, which “we have waived since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve also directed DWD to assure we are providing all needed support services for those who are out of work.”
He’s also asking the Department of Workforce Development to complete a demographic analysis of unemployed Hoosiers over the past 16 months “so I have the best information available to make an informed decision about whether the state should continue to participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs.”
But whatever elected officials might do to alter the trend, Richards is still closing.
Richards has been in its location near the Stock + Field store for some 25 years, having moved from an earlier location near Anchorage Road and US 30.
Richards has 14 stores in northeast Indiana, according to the company website.
Most of the clientele are older and retired. Many are regulars. She described them as “loyal and great people.”
Working shorthanded has been tough on management, who are often left to fill vacancies in the daily schedule.
With holes in the schedule, McCoy has had to take on extra roles and hours, working food prep in the morning, lunch-hour cook, dishwasher and problem solver.
After the store closes Thursday, McCoy said she’ll work at the Richards in Columbia City for a short while before taking a much-needed break.