By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas’ kosher restaurant owners are welcoming customers, cleaning the kitchens, ordering inventory, cooking and baking and hoping for the best as they face staffing up for in-person service.
Employees are hard to hire and hard to keep employed, as the past 16 months of closures and capacity restrictions have taken their toll, the owners say.
Now, with most restaurants opened, many owners say unemployment benefits and stimulus payments have affected their hiring. Kosher Palate owners Chaim and Miriam Goldfeder, for example, find themselves doing more with less.
“Our staff has been pared down significantly. “I can’t pay what unemployment is providing right now but I believe we’ll get back to a full team,” said Chaim. “It takes too much time to search for the people who aren’t out there right now so I stopped looking. We just work harder.”
In May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas would opt out of further federal unemployment compensation, including a $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, effective June 26, 2021. (As the TJP went to press, it was unclear how soon that decision might affect the job market.)
“Thank God people are coming in, they are ordering and we’re so happy to have the business but it’s tough to keep up. I need help; we all need help,” said Joey Ohayon, who hasn’t experienced such staffing issues in the almost 20 years since he opened Fino! at Coit and Campbell roads. “We have always given our best and we’re still doing that. I’m here most nights until way after midnight and back first thing in the morning.”
Ohayon lost two longtime employees this year, both having spent well over a decade at his side, one who passed away, the other for personal reasons. Now, the restaurateur has found himself tasked with every aspect of his business. He is thankful for the business he has, including providing lunches for the Aaron Family JCC’s Camp lunch meals, but has temporarily shortened hours due to short staffing.
“Not having adequate staff makes it difficult to run the restaurant efficiently and provide the high-quality customer service that our Fino! fans are used to and deserve. The goal over the summer is to rebuild our staff and get back to full capacity,” said Ohayon. In the past 16 months, he says, he lost 60% of revenue, much of that catering business. “The positive that came from this year is we started online ordering and that allows us to accept many more orders,” he said.
Owners of kosher establishments — Aderet, Benny’s Bagels, Kosher Palate, Smallcakes Cupcakery and The Market — report receiving numerous applications and calls, and making appointments for interviews only to have no one show up. Many who do start work, and take the owner’s time to be trained, show up only a few times to work and then disappear.
Dallas Kosher reports that for many of the DK supervised establishments, the story is the same. The cost of everything has increased and staffing is tough, including hiring of mashgichim — those who work on-site to supervise kashrut.
Isaac Banai, of Benny’s Bagels, has counted on the same couple who have worked in his kitchen for years, grateful they have continued this past year. The difficulty in finding mashgichim has been a challenging issue.
Over the past year, Dallas Kosher waived many months of its establishments’ certification fees, subsidized about 50% of the mashgichim’s salaries and paid for their certification through the Kosher Institute of America. Still, it’s difficult to fill all the necessary positions.
Not only are store owners working double and triple time, they’re doing so while trying to keep up the standards their customers are used to, at times not such an easy task.
Liron Telman, who owns Aderet with her husband Ronen, asks her clientele to please be patient with her help because at least they’ve shown up and many do not. As with many of the other restaurants, Aderet owners have relied on family members to help out.
“It’s so hard to get people to work and, while I appreciate people may be used to quicker service or more people in the kitchen, we really are doing all that we can,” she said. “In 11 years here in Dallas we’ve built a wonderful client base and we are proud of what we provide. This year has been really hard but we won’t stop trying. We appreciate people coming in and now coming back and we really hope our customers understand we are moving as quickly as possible.”
Local owners hope the halting of federal benefits helps them secure employees, but their hopes come with concerns.
“It’s not just that we need employees, we need employees who want to work because, thank God, we’re busy,” said Jordona Kohn of The Market Local Comfort Café. She is washing dishes, acting as barista-hostess as well as pastry and sous chef, then serving meals. “We’ve had people come in and really not be moving at the speed we need them to and they figure it’s just too much. We’re grateful to have the customers and so we have to do whatever it takes. Unfortunately, not everyone who seems to want the work, really wants to work.”
Kohn and her business partner, Stacey Clarke, work 15-hour days, six days a week, and after Shabbat, in the restaurant that wasn’t a year old when the pandemic hit. Proud they’ve been able to stay open, she says, “I’d rather be tired because we’re so busy rather than tired from the stress of no business. Still, we’d love some great help.”
She’s confident the employment situation will improve. “We’re not out of the woods but I just have to believe things will get better. Our community has supported us, all of us through some really tough times, but we are a community.”
Smallcakes Cupcakery Dallas owner Annemarie Deubner is more than 60% down in business since the start of the pandemic, due to the cancellation of parties, weddings and b’nai mitzvah parties. She lost her lead decorator and then, just as things began picking up last month, she fell and broke her right hand, so decorating cupcakes is a much more difficult task.
“I haven’t closed, but it’s been tough. I’m grateful to be still here, and it will get better. I just hope it’s soon,” said Deubner, her “Cake Decorator Wanted” signs still visible at the front of her store. “