Seemingly everywhere you look in the Roaring Fork Valley, a permanent “Help Wanted” sign greets customers at the entrance of many beloved restaurants.
While the constant employee turnover brings uncertainty and inevitable stress for Carbondale restaurant owners, they are adapting to the times and continuing to deliver high-quality culinary experiences for locals and tourists alike.
“It’s not easy,” said Patrice Fuller, owner of Carbondale Beer Works. “We definitely run a lot tighter than we ever have. But we also have to make money, so I’d rather work a little bit harder.”
No stranger to hard work, Fuller, who has seen a recent shift in her kitchen staff, started cooking alongside chef Pete Mullery to help ease the load. To make matters more challenging, Chachi Rodriguez, longtime brewer and Fuller’s business partner, recently relocated out-of-state.
Fortunately, Fuller’s tight-knit, front-of-house staff has stepped up to fill the gaps, including her dishwashers who are now in the tip pool because their work has expanded to front-of-house duties.
“I have a girl that works for me, she’s a bartender and manager, but she’s a homebrewer and really wants to work commercially,” Fuller said. “She’s been working with the guys at Ball Brewing, and that’s probably going to be the answer. I had two different brewers that were interested but — I know everybody says this — they didn’t want to move here because of housing.”
Allegria’s new co-owner, Benoit DeFrancisco, said that it took him nearly a year to fill staffing positions. They are now mostly midvalley locals. He said it was important that his staff showed a genuine interest in the work, and reflected the culture of Allegria.
Noting the shift in workers’ standards, DeFrancisco said, “People are not going to sell their soul, or their time, and their life for 15 dollars an hour. … You shouldn’t be forced to go to work, or feel like you have to, or sell your soul for a job that’s not going to give you enough money to survive.”
Along this line of thinking, Ryan Sweeney, co-owner of Brass Anvil, said that competitive wages keep high quality employees. As a result, he works tirelessly to create a welcoming environment with enticing menus that attract customers, who ultimately tip servers better.
“There’s economic pressure on people. It’s a different world now,” he said. “If a server or bartender is only making 150 bucks on a Friday night, and they know across town they can make 250 or 300, absolutely they’ll go there. That’s a tank of gas, that’s a trip to the grocery store.”
Notably, Sweeney, who also co-owns Bull and Buck in Basalt and Silver City in Aspen, noticed that more workers are choosing to stay in the midvalley rather than commute upvalley where historically they could make more money.
“There could be a million different reasons, but I think Aspen is not as busy as last year,” Sweeney said. “Traditionally people will do whatever they can to get a job in Aspen even if that means a longer commute or more expensive housing situation, but maybe the Aspen money is not what it was, so maybe [workers are] wanting to be closer to home and work downvalley.”
While high pay and affordable housing is critical for keeping staff, the restaurant owners agree that a healthy work environment is just as important.
“[Workers] choose the environment that they want to be in,” DeFrancisco said. “[Allegria is] a safe environment for everyone. They are gonna be respected, they are well-treated, we have quality products and quality guests.” He added that a layer of transparency within his restaurant also builds trust with his staff.
At Beer Works, Fuller said her team genuinely enjoys spending time together outside of business hours. On shift, they look out for each other by encouraging breaks when necessary, running food and sitting at the bar after hours to simply decompress.
For years the community has played an integral role in the success of Main Street businesses. Now is the time to consider perusing the shops, stopping by for a quick bite, or simply saying hello.
“I’m not going to tell anybody who has financial uncertainty to go out and have a steak dinner three nights a week,” Sweeney said. “Sometimes it’s just going in and having the experience you are comfortable having financially and enjoying it, and doing that more often than saving up for that one date night a month. Frequency over going big one night a month is a little bit more supportive to the businesses.”
With Mountain Fair on the horizon, the restaurant owners ask for patience throughout the busy weekend, but most of all, be ready to enjoy a fun and lively culinary experience in downtown Carbondale.