VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – According to the National Restaurant Association, the industry finished 2020 2.5 million restaurant jobs below Pre-COVID levels.

Curtis Lyons, owner of Roger Brown’s in Portsmouth, had to close on Monday and Tuesday of this week because he didn’t have enough workers.  “I currently have 24 I would like to have 50 at this moment,” he told 10 On Your Side.

Meanwhile, Mary’s Kitchen in Virginia Beach closed down for a week, posting to social media “Closed until we can find and hire qualified staff.” They reopened Friday. The owner there said she usually has 30 employees, but is current down to only 12.

Pelon’s Baja Grill at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront was also closed Monday and Tuesday. Owner John Muscara said he’s hiring all positions. “The people we had, we were paying them 40-50-60 hours, paying them overtime, bonus. Keep them positive (or) you are going to get burned out,” he said.

As more people are getting vaccinated, they are going out to restaurants, but are finding many of those restaurants have either closed down or have limited hours or menus.  

The mighty survive, but are hurting.

“I just believe my biggest competition is the government paying them more than what they can make at these retail establishments restaurants and all,” said Lyons.

He said he’s paying some $13-$15 an hour, which is the proposed new minimum wage, but many people still don’t want to work.

John Muscara says he’s in the same boat. He’s scheduled as many as seven interviews in a week, and not one applicant would show up. “A lot of people just want to sit home and collect free money, which is going to be very difficult for small businesses and businesses all across the country to compete with.” 

In the big picture it is also clear this unemployment practice is closing down restaurants, and changing the way restaurants operate. 

Lyons gave this example. “I’ve had to go to a contactless payment form so you can come into our restaurant and order and pay by your phone, and one of the working employees will bring it to your table.”

Roger Brown says turning around the restaurant industry begins in September, when the new unemployment agreement expires.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens.