Falling short: What’s causing Asheville’s restaurant labor crisis?

SLIM PICKINGS: Strada Italiano owner Anthony Cerrato says that recently the Ashevillle restaurant industry’s “labor pool has been really shallow and really muddy.” He points to the explosion of tourism as one cause.
SLIM PICKINGS: Strada Italiano owner Anthony Cerrato says that recently the Ashevillle restaurant industry’s “labor pool has been really shallow and really muddy.” He points to the explosion of tourism as one cause. Photo by Cindy Kunst

It’s an American cultural trope: The hand-scrawled “Help Wanted” sign fixed with masking tape to a store window. The image is such a ubiquitous symbol of American prosperity that it almost evokes a Norman Rockwell-like sense of ease. For the most part, it is a harbinger of a thriving market, a symbol that things are going well, money is being spent and business is booming.

But what happens when the sign doesn’t come down? What are the ramifications for a market that can’t find enough skilled laborers to satisfy demand? Asheville seems to have found itself trapped in this quagmire just in time for its busiest season.

“It’s been six months of hell,” says Sherrye Coggiola, owner of The Cantina at Historic Biltmore Village, a casual Mexican eatery in the heart of one of Asheville’s popular tourist districts. “We’ve never had a problem with turnover. This is the first time it has ever affected our business.”

Where are the workers?

Traditionally, as the tourist season ramps up, restaurants like The Cantina will start augmenting their staffs, hiring extra workers to seamlessly accommodate the increase in demand. But during the past six months, Coggiola says she has stopped getting calls for the restaurant’s employment postings on Craigslist, and the few folks who did show up for interviews weren’t suited for the positions.

“Where we really saw an impossibility to staff was the back of the house,” she says. Pay for kitchen positions at The Cantina starts at $10 an hour.

Coggiola isn’t alone in her dilemma. In fact, all 10 restaurants that Xpress contacted for this story complained of the same problem. “This seems to be the No. 1 thing on everyone’s minds right now in the restaurant business — that it is really hard to find qualified staff, particularly in the kitchen,” says Asheville chef and restaurateur Meherwan Irani. Irani’s restaurant empire includes the popular Indian fast casual eatery Chai Pani, Buxton Hall Barbecue, MG Road cocktail bar and two Indian restaurants in Atlanta and Decatur, Ga.

“This is not affecting us in Atlanta,” he says, explaining that his workforce there is largely made up of immigrants and he has no problems maintaining a consistent staff. “This very much seems to be an Asheville problem, from the inside looking out.”

The question of saturation

“Recently the labor pool has been really shallow and really muddy,” says Anthony Cerrato, owner of Strada Italiano. “It’s almost as if as Asheville has grown to be more of a tourist destination and tourist economy, and it is really starting to catch up with the labor pool. There are so many more places opening up that the labor pool has really dwindled.”

In terms of economics, a saturated restaurant market is a situation in which there are so many eateries that consumers are spread thin and the market becomes unsustainable. But Asheville’s saturation problem may be that the industry’s growth is outpacing the growth of its workforce.

Mike Walden, N.C. State University professor of economics, notes that a saturation of the restaurant scene is inevitable in Asheville. “How we consume food is in a state of flux now. There are major shifts occurring between preparing traditional meals at home, purchasing preprepared meals for consumption at home and eating out,” he says. “There will be a point at which Asheville is saturated with restaurants — at least for a time. It is difficult to know when that point occurs, but any entrepreneur considering opening a restaurant needs to worry about the degree of competition. Of course, a new restaurant with a unique menu, unusual amenities or a convenient location can always thrive despite there being many alternatives.”

Even stalwarts like Cúrate and Nightbell are seeing a drop in applicants. “What used to be an issue just for line cooks and dishwashers, it is becoming more difficult to fill all positions — servers, hosts, bartenders, etc.,” says co-owner and beverage and service director Felix Meana.  “It seems like there is more competition, lots of jobs available but not enough qualified workers to fill them all.”

Beyond competition

But Meana doesn’t see increasing competition as the only reason for current staffing challenges. He observes that it is becoming more difficult for his staff to find affordable places to live close to town. ”As housing prices in Asheville go up, it is becoming more and more imperative that people have transportation to get to and from downtown Asheville as they are being forced to live further from downtown,” says Meana. “It is difficult for the restaurant industry because the bus system doesn’t operate late enough for them to take the bus to and from work. We need to work on public transportation that operates at hours to support one of the biggest industries in Asheville, the hospitality industry.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator estimates that a single parent in Buncombe County would require $27.62 an hour to cover rent and cost of living, with $9 an hour considered poverty wages. The average pay for a starting dishwasher or line cook in Asheville is $10 an hour, just an inch above the poverty line. Most jobs for line cooks pay $12-15 an hour. According to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, 28 percent of Asheville’s labor force is employed in the hospitality industry.

William Dissen, executive chef and owner of The Market Place, sees another possible reason culinary workers seem so scarce. He echoes other restaurateurs with observations of “low unemployment and a lot of restaurants that are all busy.” But he also says he has lost employees to other growing industries. “There are a lot more jobs like construction that are taking candidates from the work pool,” he says. “We’ve had a few people make the jump to construction as it’s booming in Western North Carolina.”

“It has really forced us to address benefits and quality of life for restaurant workers,” says Irani. His restaurants have always had a reputation for taking good care of staff, but as he struggles to maintain employees, he’s now finding that may not be enough.

“This industry has always been a bit of a hard-knock life and is not something that most people think of as a career with upward mobility,” he says. “That’s one of the primary drivers of us wanting to continue to grow and expand, is the ability to offer those options and opportunities to our team, and to be able to afford to give our team those benefits that other industries can offer.” But growth and expansion become stunted when an industry reaches a saturation point.

Cerrato sees one small glimmer of hope: As Asheville gains a reputation as a restaurant town, it becomes more enticing for people who make their careers in the kitchen. “We are slowly starting to see skilled cooks moving here from other places, so I think there may be a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

Irani notes that if that is going to be the future of the Asheville restaurant scene, it is going to take a concerted effort on the part of the city and its community of restaurateurs to make the area friendlier to the industry.

“I feel like we need to start coming together as an industry in Asheville and start having this conversation amongst each other,” he says. “A rising tide raises all ships, and [it would be great] if we, as a town, can have a reputation for not just having awesome restaurants and amazing chefs, but if we could have a work utopia for our restaurant workers. And that’s not just going to involve the restaurants, but it is going to involve the city. How can we make Asheville a more attractive place to work and live?”

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com

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51 thoughts on “Falling short: What’s causing Asheville’s restaurant labor crisis?

  1. Jason

    Restaurant work is low wage and there’s no way to advance up. Per a Congressional mandate passed 40 years ago; servers make like 2.50$/hr. Forevermore.
    Also considered how hard the IRS has come down on tip earners recently.
    Perhaps if/when these restaurant owners need the work badly enough; they’ll pay more attractive hourly wage.
    I’ve always noticed how much of a revolving door restaurant staff is; considering I like to eat out.

    • Thanks for bringing this up! I actually was going to address this in the story but ran out of room. Cerrato actually pointed out at one point in our interview that his front of house staff averages about $25/hour. Servers actually make really great money in this town. Where the labor shortage is happening is in the back of house, where cooks and dishwashers work for hourly wages. As for the revolving door aspect of things, I think Asheville has always been a pretty transient town. It is important to keep in mind that there are people working at all of these restaurants that have been there since they opened. Cerrato said he has a handful of employees that have been with him and his father before him for 13 years!

      • Aubury phillips

        I would say ask the people ( service industry) that are the other end of this conversation…. I am a local and ask me Where i. haven’t worked. In the past 20 years of watching this town grow……. I have worked at both for both… but the good employees can’t find a job cuz the staff or management is in my opinion scared us ol timers will do a better job and take there’s !!! Or they want 6 pieces of paper before you can actually speak to someone that can give you a job. Then the good reasturants lose out in good people… and a local.

        So in all ….. write an article from the people who work and get treated like a turd and we still walk away with a smile
        And Many in the community can hear us and work together to make our staffing and greeting and costumer service a little better and we all win! And all make money and a better place for the whole everything!! And represent Asheville as it should be represented!

      • C Jaynes

        While it may be nice to hold up the higher hourly wage by front of the house staff, most work part-time hours and with little to no benefits, so difficulty filling these jobs will always be the story when the unemployment rate drops (and stays) low.

  2. Jason

    Oh! Also! I’d like to bring to light how expensive asheville restaurants are. We locals take note that we are paying tourist town prices. I can’t help notice that when I go to charlotte or Atlanta how much less restaurants charge for basically the same entrees. We have family come in from Milwaukee for weeks at a time during the summer; and they’re all blown away at how much food and drinks are.
    Asheville may have to charge more to recoup the loss of business in the winter, but they lay their workers off then too..:: perhaps since they charge so much more; they should afford a more attractive hourly wage.

    • luther blissett

      If you and your family think Asheville is an expensive town to eat, then be sure you have health insurance for when you see the prices in big cities, because it’ll give you heart attacks. And never travel to countries where kitchen staff and servers are on a proper minimum wage.

      If your restaurant business model depends upon $10-12/hr “qualified” back of house workers for an industry shaped like a very wide, very short pyramid, then you may need to rejig your spreadsheet.

      • Gary

        Recent trip to New York City… And the overall comment was on how much cheaper it was to eat out, compared to Asheville. Not sure you get any bigger than NYC.

    • I actually looked into this in a previous story, and Asheville is actually below the national restaurant average when you tally up our menu prices. For instance, a burger in Asheville tends to be about $2 cheaper than one in Charlotte or Raleigh. For the piece below, I surveyed over a hundred menus in Asheville and found a meal for at or under $10 on nearly every single dinner menu (with the exception of “fine dining” places of course, but we only have 4 or 5 of those anyway). https://mountainx.com/food/foodtopia-on-a-shoestring-ashevilles-elusive-affordable-restaurant-meal/

      • Michael

        One meal at or below $10 and i bet 90% of the time its a salad. This place is very expensive in comparison to the wages earned out here

  3. Amy Gillespie

    We are having the same issue. (I own Good Stuff in Marshall. ) We are currently not even opening four days a week for lunch, largely because of lack of staff. The cost of living here is somewhatcheaper, in terms of rent, though downtown is much closer to Asheville prices for many reasons. Public transportation doesn’t exist at all. We start cooks at $9/hr, because our volume is significantly less than restaurants in Asheville. (As a working owner, I average about $4/hr!) We, the restaurant community in Marshall/Madison, don’t have a cohesive organization to address these issues. Wondering if AIR has any resources?

  4. Amanda

    The only income I have ever known is a servers income cash money each shift do you work and maybe a $10 paycheck each week. 10 years now. My personal thoughts about this . Asheville is a money hungry place to live. In the past few months I’ve had to really think about if it would just make more sense to stay at home with both of my kids rather than go to work and make money but have to pay almost $1000 for both of my kids to go to daycare and that’s The amount I have to pay out of my pocket including what vouchers help me with.
    And another main reason why I have been thinking about getting out of the service industry is because I don’t qualify for Medicaid so I have to go without insurance because majority of the service industry don’t offer coverage in any type of way.

  5. Patti Ciaffone

    I did a few calculations using $10 an hour, forty hours a week as the base. If you go by the old standard of allowing 1/3 of your income for housing, you get about $577 a month ( before taxes) for housing expenses. Next, I searched online for an apartment someone could rent for $500 a month. ANY size apartment. The searches found nothing in that range. I think $77 a month for utilities is low, so the actual amount you could pay for rent is most likely below $500 a month. Anyone trying to survive in this area on $10 an hour is struggling to make ends meet unless they have roommates or live with their parents.
    Restaurants expect a lot of hard work and , usually, experience for their kitchen staff. I’ve known people who have worked for kitchens that take advantage of their staff when they are dependable while letting others who slack off get away with it. I can not comment on any of the kitchens mentioned in this article and I’m not naming others.
    I do sympathise with the dilemma, but I don’t blame people for avoiding jobs that won’t pay enough to keep them out of poverty,

    • Matt C.

      This! You want good workers, pay them a living wage. Notice the guy interviewed with restaurants in ATL says he gets foreign labor, ie, “less than legal” laborers.

      • luther blissett

        “ie, “less than legal” laborers.”

        i.e. you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that “foreign” always means “less than legal” and probably shouldn’t jump to those conclusions. New immigrants in big cities like Atlanta live cheaply, usually in shared apartments or with established family and support networks, and they can get by on lower-end wages until they find their feet. Check out your own family history and you’ll find ancestors who did that.

        I’m not pretending the restaurant industry doesn’t pay people under the table or use illegal labor — Anthony Bourdain has talked frankly about this — but that’s because middle-class Americans see $18 entrees and think they’re being cheated.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/30/anthony-bourdain-defends-immigrants-shreds-trump-and-lazy-culinary-school-kids/

        • Matt C.

          You know that saying “a few bad apples spoils the bunch?” Well you recognize those few and still defend it. We, Asheville, don’t have tons of legal immigrants showing up, even if we did, they deserve a competitive wage too. Just because a select group “live cheaply” does not imply we should exploit that. There are plenty of cushy cake jobs paying 10$/hr. No one wants to be on their feet busting their ass for a wage someone working front desk at a hotel makes. Smart, quality workers who were born here, won’t come apply to jobs that don’t pay well.

          • luther blissett

            Of course, but you’re still making a leap.

  6. Iggy Ray Dio

    I find it odd that the solution presented for exorbitant housing prices is better mass transit and not affordable housing. It is kind of telling when you don’t address the real issue but instead come up with a way to make sure people can’t afford to live downtown and work there as well.

    A problem I have seen is that for the “season” restraunts ramp up and overture. What happens when you overture? Nobody gets enough hours. So then they have to get a second job. Now people work 60-70+ hours a week but spread out over multiple jobs and never ever a chance of overtime. Or worse, after the “season” everyone’s hours get cut so much you need a second job to survive.

  7. Lauren Patton

    It would be truly interesting and perhaps enlightening if you could follow up with Blue Dream Curry and see if they are experiencing the same labor crisis. Blue Dream Curry states on the front page of their website that a key part of their mission is to ” ALWAYS PAY A LIVING WAGE TO OUR EMPLOYEES AND TAKE CARE OF THE EARTH WHILE SUPPORTING THE LOCAL ECONOMY OF ASHEVILLE, NC IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE.”

    If Blue Dream is NOT experiencing the same labor crisis. Perhaps this model could be adapted by other area restaurants.

    • Brian

      They may not be experiencing a labor shortage but they aren’t really a make from scratch place.

    • Several of the restaurants we spoke with are living wage certified, or provide living wage already without the certification. All of them have been experiencing this shortage. Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani pointed out that although the restaurant is not certified living wage, they do provide a starting pay of $14 for cooks, healthcare, and paid vacation. Curate is also certified living wage, and are quoted in the piece.

      • former employee / skilled worker

        objectively, this is a well-written op-ed which clearly reflects its idea. but it is SORELY lacking in counterpoint. did you consult any of these so-called “skilled workers” who seem to be abundant yet non-existent? this is much Boss Tears, head-scratching and blame-gaming with zero voices from the trenches. to wit:

        if starting pay at Chai Pani is $14, then that’s brand new, like within the last few weeks. like OH SHIT again. Chai Pani had a BOH exodus two years ago, so they bumped the wage/starting pay to $12 from $10. (dish went from 8 to 10.) most BOH never made a nickel above that unless someone went into OT, and then everyone’s hours/pay would be eagle-eyed because, and i quote, “labor costs are too high.” i repeat: “LABOR COSTS ARE TOO HIGH.” i cannot count how many times i heard that. at one point, i was promised a raise, laid out in increments over time. that promise never came to fruition. and paid vacation might happen for mgt or the folks who work “upstairs” but sure as shit never provided for the kitchen or servers…. so now it seems they’ve seen another exodus (about a dozen employees in rapid succession, including 3 FOH managers, many of whom put multiple years in) and they’ve adjusted (so they say). and i can guaran-freekin-tee you that they’re offsetting wage raises by increasing menu price points while standardizing the hell out of the menu (aka NO MORE SAMOSAS, and buttfucking the bottom line.) the unironic twist is now employee retention is a community issue. not in-house, not top-down. it’s the housing bubble, it’s transportation. it’s anything but accountability for labor exploitation. if a rising tide raises all ships, then it’s probably smarter to invest in labor (the people who float you) rather than build your empire by expanding your fleet in shallow waters.

        • Pshhhhh

          Preach!

          I had a pretty good feeling those number claims were bogus. If they were true chai pani would have THE MOST AMAZING REPUTATION EVER among service industry folks but ummm…I’ve never heard a peep about that.

        • former employee / skilled worker

          UPDATE: checked in with a former coworker and they are definitely NOT earning $14/hr, neither are any employees except for mgt, nor are they receiving paid vacation time. That information you were given is false. And providing health insurance is a bit of a misnomer. The employer provides options, yes, (because the federal government mandates it, not because they choose to,) but the employee pays for their plan out of every paycheck. We cannot have an honest discourse about labor and wages and quality of life when the bosses who complain are lying about how they operate.

  8. les

    If it takes $27.62 an hour to cover rent and cost of living in Asheville, then it makes sense for restaurants to pay that. Its the price of doing business. The extra volume of patrons they could serve could offset the extra wages–or, they could raise prices like they do in other cities.

    • Ben ramsay

      Not gonna pay someone a wage there not willing to prove they are worth first!

  9. David

    In the article the cost of living and transportation are mentioned as issues that exacerbate the issue of kitchen wages. I’d like to add parking costs as a significant challenge. If you work downtown and can only park in a city deck, those fees dramatically reduce your already low wages. Additionally parking is getting harder and harder to come by.

    I think an interesting point to remind readers of is how the restaurant pay issue can get muddied by some of the pay rates in the industry. Some articles and arguments rely too heavily upon the server pay rate of $2.15 / hour and ignore tipped earnings, which can be quite substantial. This approach ignores pay equality between back and front of house, which I believe to be the real heart of the matter.

    It would be great to see NC change laws so that tips collected by an establishment could be distributed between all employees. Right now, tips can only be legally distributed among “tipped employees,” i.e.: servers, bartenders, food runners. I worry though that a significant obstacle to improving pay equality is servers themselves. While many support the idea of better pay for the kitchen, I imagine it may be hard to get buy in if it require significant pay decreases for tipped employees in exchange.

    I also find it interesting that a reader commented that AVL food prices seem steeper than other cities. I worry that the reason for that may be other cities’ reliance upon more exploitative employment practices, although I can’t say for sure. Sometimes I wonder if Asheville restaurants could use marketing and menu writing to relay the message that they’re trying to pay their employees more to justify higher menu prices (although that could be easily exploited if the price increases were simply pocketed).

    Ultimately, there are many articles online, scholarly and otherwise, that detail the many drawbacks and misconceptions about tipped income. “The Case Against Tipping” by Yoram Margalioth is an excellent starting point for an introduction to the issue. It’s great to see this issue being raised by the Xpress. As a long time kitchen employee and manager, I too can relate to the lack of interest in job postings and the struggle to find good employees. I would love to see owners, operators, and employees come together to work towards a more mutually sustainable future.

  10. Asheville Dweller

    Amy-
    Can you shed some light on how you can live on $4/hour? Is this a first year thing, or are you making money in indirect ways off the place? (Or perhaps a retirement project?) Thanks for volunteering this info.

    I’m washing dishes in a place also too far, like Marshall, from the bus. So downtown wages won’t work for me ’til I get a car.

  11. Jimmy

    The problem is not the shortage of labor. It’s what some restaurants in Asheville pay. I work in the kitchen of a successful restaurant and no one in the kitchen makes less than $18/hr. I make $25/hr, work 35-40 hours a week and most of my co workers have been here for over 5 years. It’s the greed of the restaurant owners that creates this false narrative that there are no qualified people or a labor shortage. Seriously, $10 an hour? After tax you would make $260 a week. And you want qualified competent staff that stick around? Most of the people we hire are people that work at other restaurants who have been trained at $10-12 per hour and quit after 6 months. Kitchen staff can see busy lines out the door, and servers making $25-$65 an hour, do the math and move to a better paying establishment.

    • Leigh

      Jimmy do you mind telling me where you work? And do you guys need a chef with almost 30 years of experience???

    • Numbers

      Extrapolating from your numbers using industry norms your restaurant averages $57 per customer. That’s where the difference is.

  12. Don

    this is just so ridiculous. Of course there is a labor shortage in the restaurant industry…. lousy pay, long hours and stressful working conditions. Hard to have any empathy for the restaurant owners…. but then again, most of them aren’t doing that well themselves and are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to wages vis a vis menu prices. Anyway…. and why are food trucks so happening??? We all know the answer to that one.

    • Lulz

      Yep. Relative worked at Tupelo Honey for 12 bucks an hour. With a culinary degree. Said bye bye and is off to better hours and pay. Tupelo Honey is a disgrace. I seriously doubt a four top can get out of there for less than 75 bucks.

      • Leigh

        Don’t even get me started with Tupelo Honey and how it treats its workers.

        • Lulz

          And if you look around, they’re still putting out ads looking for cooks for 12 and hour. They charge that for an appetizer.

    • Jason

      I have empathy for both the restaurant owners AND restaurant employees. The owners got SOLD on the American Dream of work hard, be passionate, and you’ll be successful. Fact; the vast majority of all restaurants fail. Did they not work hard enough? Did they come to the realization that working so hard for so little just wasn’t worth new wrinkle every morning? The restaurant employee likely had so few job options forcing them to take what they can get; cuz they gotta eat. Should’ve gone to college and pursued a degree; you say?? MOST HAVE, yet ended up in a restaurant, only now with a student loan …. sadly they too got SOLD on the American Dream of work hard, be passionate, and you’ll be successful.

      • Lulz

        Well you realize that since the loan scam makes it easy to get money that colleges turn around and make it more expensive to enroll. All those rich liberal professors who make 6 figures are doing it off the backs of young kids who think a worthless degree means automatic riches.

        • luther blissett

          “All those rich liberal professors who make 6 figures”

          Dude. Look up the UNC salary database, then look up “adjunct.” Tenure-track positions are fought over, working for any kind of extended academic career means dragging your partner or family where the jobs are, and an ever-increasing proportion of the teaching is offloaded to grad students trying to fill their resumes or adjuncts paid per course with no job security or benefits. The administrators are the ones hoarding the money, especially if they’re putting up gaudy buildings with alum donors’ names on them. And Roy Williams gets paid more than a bunch of the UNCA faculty combined. It’s not that different than the restaurant industry.

          It’s weird when people understand on a gut level that stagnant wages and the consolidation of profits cause bigger problems, but can’t pin down who deserves sympathy and who deserves blame. Shows that divide-and-conquer works.

        • Jason

          ya, the 6 figure salary Professor is the issue. Not the top heavy Capitalistic system of DOG EAT DOG that makes us slaves here in the United States of Amnesia

          • Lulz

            LOL but it’s that way because of CRONY capitalism. Say dude if the city fines me 500 a day for an Airbnb while hotels are being built left and right, is it capitalism keeping me in hiding or the cronies in the industry who also are on various boards and commissions? Or if I want to open a restaurant, how many permits and inspections are needed? No problem if I have access to funding. But there is one if I don’t. And who promotes this? Your local progressive Democrats if we’re talking about this area.

  13. Pshhhhh

    Perhaps the statement about not having issues in bigger cities where restaurants hire mostly immigrants was not thought through–and I hope that’s the case–but this sentiment is so wildly deluded my mouth dropped open.

    I feel like Irani should have just said that he was having a hard time taking advantage of middle/working class native US citizens the way a lot of resturant owners have traditionally taken advantage of immigrants (illegal and otherwise) forever and ever.

    Like lack of loyal staff is not a direct result of that mentality. Here’s an example of another local resturant owner’s mentality I just expearienced first hand:
    I work(ed) at a place that started taking a percentage of tips from the FOH (who made a whopping average of 12 an hr) and gave it to the BOH (legal loophole cuz they claimed/lied & said cooks also bussed tables) to help with BOH turnover/wage issues. That dropped FOH wages pretty considerably…but the whole arrangement was under the guise of “sharing the wealth”. Not, you know, greed or deception.

    Shit is broke. Let’s stop pretending turnover and employees jumping ship is such a mystery. People are fed up with being treated (and valued) like garbage. Those reprocussions are finally trickling down to the owners in the service industry. Adapt or be held accountable.

    Or finally fail (hopefully).

    • Lulz

      Not just the service industry. Construction also takes advantage of people. Yeah they might start you off at 12 an hour but with inflation factored in, that’s still UNDER minimum wage. Meanwhile the millions that the big shots collect on top of having to be subsidized by the government is hush, hush. After all, if your employees get back tax refunds, someone else is paying for it. And it ain’t the construction industry heads. It’s other working stiffs.

      • Jason

        U miss understand me; sadly u are assuming b/c I’m enraged at our dog eat dog system; then I’m a commi DEM. Not true! there’s nothing more rewarding to our politicians then to have people bicker over politics while promoting a specific party.
        I don’t buy into our 2 party, self serving, divide and conquer, party before people political system.
        Both parties in our government purposely mismanage government; there’s little to NO accountability and this is how each party promotes each other; and validate/substantiate their need to exist.

  14. Louis Z

    Not much of a mystery here. Most of the young punks, weirdos, and lifers that work back of the house have left avl and there ain’t new ones moving here. Why would they? It is waay too expensive, full of yuppies and the music and art scene is bleak to say the least.

  15. Anthony

    “I’ve known people who have worked for kitchens that take advantage of their staff when they are dependable while letting others who slack off get away with it.”

    As much as I love living in Asheville, let’s be honest, there is a heavily embedded provincialism that borders on the incestuous. In the article, the definition of “qualified” appears to me, ambiguous. Reliability and genuine honesty is always a plus, but can be easily undermined by one’s age, education, or place or origin. Washing a plate or waiting on tables is a far cry from the concept of meritocracy.

    • Lulz

      Amen. Being labeled a hard worker now is merely another way of exploiting them. Nothing wrong with working hard. But there is something wrong with being taken advantage of.

      • Jason

        Well if u truly believe that there is something wrong with being taken advantage of; then you are clearly pro union….

  16. Simon Templar

    I see complaints in the comments about low wages and high menu prices. I’ve seen both in action and agree with these observations. To pay restaurant workers more, obviously, the prices must increase. But, most patrons don’t want (or, can’t afford) to pay the higher prices. The money has to come from somewhere, right?

    That’s how a lot of things are, here in the U.S. – people want a Nordstrom experience for a Walmart price. It’s like the old saying: “You can get it good, fast, or cheap. Pick any two.” For good food, service, and setting, I’m happy to pay “above average” prices. Not everyone is able to do so – at least, not all of the time.

    When I was growing-up, eating at restaurants was the exception and not the rule. So, we budgeted for it. It was a luxury, not a necessity. These days, this seems reversed. Thus, I expect to pay more. While it’s usually cheaper (and healthier) to cook at home, there’s also the time required to plan, shop, cook, and clean-up. So, the question is how much does a person value their time?

    I already burn one third of my day in a job I hate, so I’m grateful for those times I can go to a restaurant, sit and relax, and enjoy a nice meal. For me, this is a fair trade. The restaurant does all the work and all I have to do it sit back and enjoy it. The time I would have spent shopping, cooking, and cleaning would have also cost me, but we don’t always assign monetary value to our time or labor.

    So, regarding the labor crunch, I have nothing to add to what’s already been well-stated by others. I guess my way of ‘helping’ is to continue visiting locally-owned restaurants that serve good food, have good service, and treat and pay their employees well. If that requires me to dine out less, in order to pay a higher check, that’s okay. Both sides have to benefit.

  17. the elephant

    Funny how no one is talking about the elephant in the room.

    The restaurant owners are complaining about not being able to find enough employees especially for line cook and dishwasher positions (unspoken: formerly held by illegal immigrants). One owner even said something like in Atlanta, where he has another restaurant, they have ‘migrants’ (his word). But, here he says it is the cost of living, and these lower paid people can’t afford to live in Asheville (unspoken: illegals cram dozens of people into one room so they can afford it).

    Another said that some restaurant workers are leaving for construction jobs (unspoken: formerly held by illegals, you know the jobs Americans don’t want) because, his explanation, there is a building boom.

    One business owner even said the people who show up for interviews now are not qualified (what does it take to qualify to be a dishwasher? Unspoken: we would have to pay them more).

    The Democrats are losing their slaves and don’t know what to do. In the meantime, Asheville city council wants to tear down Civil War monuments. The hypocrisy in this town is unbelievable

  18. Kevin

    Restaurants are over populated in this small city, and what is happening with the shortage of staff is nothing more than a less drastic version of Darwinism. The heard will either thin itself or the typical restaurant model in Asheville will evolve in order to survive. Or a combination of both.

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