Oceanfront businesses forced to close some locations, rethink operations due to lack of help

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — In a year in which Virginia is seeing record unemployment, businesses in the resort community say they are being forced to close their doors in the peak of the summer season because of the lack of help.

Slight staffing issues are typical this time of year in the resort community as college student employees begin to leave for the fall semester. Typically restaurants and hotels bank on international students to fill the void through Labor Day.

This year, COVID-19 wrecked the status quo. The J-1 Visa Student Work Travel program has been suspended through the end of the year.

However, George Kotarides, owner of Dough Boys pizza restaurants, said in his situation the lack of J-1 students has been very low on the list of issues.

“I think people are just not out looking for work right now … maybe it is a little understandable with the government subsidy they are receiving,” Kotarides said referring to the extra $600 in added unemployment benefits as part of the CARES Act. “I think it has probably more than a lot to do with it.” 

In a normal year, Kotarides explained that he would hire up to roughly 140 additional workers between his three restaurants for the summer. This year, he wasn’t even able to hire 100.

While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly kept the number of visitors to his restaurant down, it hasn’t been enough to justify being down-staffed.

“I showed up to work Saturday morning at one of our locations and we didn’t have enough servers to do the service,” Kotarides said.

Within hours, he switched the whole operation of his restaurant around. Instead of table service, people would now order from the counter and a runner would bring their food out to them.

Kotarides said on another occasion he had to serve as the the dishwasher at all three of his locations in one day. Something he hasn’t done since starting his business in 1989.

And he is far from alone.

Stacey Shiflet, executive director of the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association said there are roughly 150 openings to be filled in just 24 restaurants across the city right now.

“The owners the managers are doing the work of back in the kitchen … answering the phones and having to limit their capacity among what it is already limited so they can provide steller service and try to stay afloat,” Shiflet said. “There are so many things riding against them right now. That it is going to be a really big struggle.” 

Shiflet said a virtual hiring event with TCC in conjunction with the Virginia Beach Hotel Association was not beneficial. On the restaurant side, only one employee was placed.

“It’s not for lack of trying … we’re putting things out, we’re just not getting many inquires back in,” Shiflet said.

Other Oceanfront retail businesses are struggling the same. John Hawa, owner of the Virginia Gift Shop, which has several locations, said some are closing earlier on a daily basis than they normally would because of lack of staff.

Kotarides said the year has been “amazing” and not in a good way.

“We’re looking for friends of staff to come in and apply. I’m calling my friends up. We’re doing everything we can do to get people,” Kotarides said. “I just hope to never have a year like this again.”

Email contactvbra@gmail.com if you are interested in helping to fill a restaurant position.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify the effects on the Virginia Gift Shop.

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