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'Burnt out' café owner reveals tough slog for hospitality industry is 'far from over'

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A hinterland café owner says she’s been trying to hire chefs for not months, but years, even after offering a wage one-third higher than the award salary.

Since the pandemic, worker shortages across all industries have impacted many local businesses, forcing permanent and temporary closures, exhausting owners and frustrating customers.

Maleny’s Shotgun Espresso owner Kelly Robson said COVID and its aftershocks, as well as a lack of government support, are some of the issues behind a string of hospitality businesses being on the brink of, or temporarily, closing.

“There has been a wave of close-downs in the last few months, which I predicted, because I myself am so burnt-out,” Ms Robson said.

“But I have everything on the line here, my mortgage, my house and I’m not going to lose it all. You’ve got to hustle, and you wake up hustling every day.

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“I understand why these other people are closing, you reach a point and it’s not worth it anymore. My heart bleeds for the Tapas 10 owners – I totally get it, I know what their overheads are – it’s devastating for them.”

Her comments follow the news Mapleton restaurant Tapas 10 closed its doors temporarily this week and businesses like Meridian Plains’ La Maison du Patissier reaching a critical point in August, due to staff shortages.

Mum-and-dad business owners Eric and Francoise Pernoud are still seeking a barista to work Friday through to Sunday at La Maison du Patissier, after months of no luck finding the right person.

Shotgun Espresso owner Kelly Robson weighs in on the hospitality staff shortage situation.

Throughout COVID and since the pandemic peaked, Ms Robson has advertised the position for chefs in her kitchen but to no avail.

“The award wage for a top chef is $65,000 but we are offering $80,000 to $90,000,” she said.

“The wages chefs are asking for right now are unheard of and we are paying them. But you either change your model so you can, or you shut down.”

The salary position for a head chef at Shotgun Espresso is a 40-hour base, over four to five days a week, to lead the team into opening nights as well as days.

With the position remaining vacant, she invited any interested qualified chefs, to consider email a CV to her at kellyjane72@gmail.com

While Ms Robson said her café does have chefs, she admitted they were still trying to fill the weekly roster.

“We had a head chef during COVID who recently left after needing a break from all that, but we’ve been looking for chefs nonstop … we need five chefs on our roster,” she said.

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She said even though some overseas travellers had returned, it wasn’t enough because they don’t bulk-out the work force.

“Chefs are so sought after right now,” she said. “I could have chef leave here today and pick up 12 jobs this afternoon if they wanted to.”

“It is really difficult, our industry was just slayed through COVID.

“The government was brutal to us, we had five police inspections here (during COVID) and we are still forever looking over our shoulders.”

Kelly Robson with some of her Shotgun Espresso staff. She says even after not being able to find new chefs, for years, they would have to be the right fit.

During the pandemic, Ms Robson said her staff worked extremely hard and were verbally abused most days.

“Our chefs and front of house – everybody was so tired and burnt out – I think a lot of people have left the industry,” she explained.

“In the beginning (of COVID) we had to let everyone go and we hoped a lot of the keystone people would wait it out – but a lot didn’t – they re-tooled and chose a new industry.”

As soon as COVID mandates began lifting Ms Dobson said people automatically thought everything was fine and would go back to normal for the industry,

“People thought prices shouldn’t go up and couldn’t believe we are short-staffed because COVID is over,” she said.

“There’s been no government support … In the beginning, there was a bit of a tax break but in the last two years there has been nothing, just, (the government) are going to put Super up and watchdog you even harder.”

She said prospective employers would often not turn up for an interview, cancel at the last minute and not turn up for their first shifts, without any explanation.

“It blows my mind, they were like ghosts,” she said. “There is a weird work-ethic going on.”

Ms Robson’s main hope was the public was aware and empathetic toward what people in the hospitality industry are going through – and for people to be grateful that places are still open.

“We are massively contributing to the economy, please be kind, this is nowhere near over for us,” she said.

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