RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The service industry continues to face challenges stemming from staffing shortages. But one local organization is working toward a solution.
Restaurants owners in the greater Richmond area, like Reginald Littleton of Family Secrets Restaurant in Henrico County, have said that they are looking to hire. Littleton has been in business for nearly 20 years, battling his way through three recessions in the process.
“I always dreamed of having a Black-owned, neighborhood restaurant,” he said. “The biggest challenge is always capital, always. Whenever you have a recession, people tend to not spend as much money than it costs to stay open, and you have to have some capital to stay in business.”
Before diving into the restaurant industry, Littleton worked at Capital One, which he said gave him a financial buffer to be able to weather the storms. But in this third recession, brought on by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, Littleton said that he and other members of the service industry are facing a new challenge.
“The biggest problem for me and probably every restaurant in the country is getting help,” he said. “I used to use the City of Richmond Jail and Henrico County Jail to get work release guys to come in, but that’s been kind of slow for the adversities they are going through as needing help hiring in the different jails.”
The staffing shortage isn’t just impacting small businesses. Littleton said that he notices a need for employees at chains like McDonald’s and Hardee’s, and grocery stores such as Food Lion and Kroger.
“The pandemic and, of course, the money that’s given out for unemployment — it’s not incentive to come back to work if you can get money for staying home and get more money,” Littleton said. “Everything’s going to change. It’s going to cost more for people.”
Littleton said that he would be willing to pay more to hire employees. But his concern is whether they would have the necessary skill set.
“I could pay more money, but I’m still not getting as quality as a person than with less money,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword, I guess, because I’m getting people who aren’t top service, but I’m giving top dollar.”
Littleton said that he typically has 15 individuals on staff. Right now, he said there are only five employees working at Family Secrets Restaurant, causing him to limit his operating hours and rely on food delivery services. At this time, Littleton is not offering in-person dining because he said he does not have the staff to support the service.
Liberation Veteran Services is working to change that.
The social services organization supports homeless veterans in the greater Richmond area.
“We provide the care, the resources, the support and the stability to help them rebuild their lives when they found themselves in crisis situations,” Mental Health Coordinator and Community Liaison Dawn Cherry said.
Littleton said that he has known Cherry just about as long as he has been in business. When she realized he was short-staffed, she picked up the phone.
“‘I have 24 guys that I’m working with here, a lot of whom could be an asset to Family Secrets,'” Cherry said. “As it happens, he was in the process of looking for people. I mean, he was like, ‘I need people right away.'”
Within a matter of days, Cherry said that Littleton was able to bring two veterans onboard, working with Liberation Veteran Services. One of those veterans was Jeremiah French, who served in the Army and National Guard for seven years, collectively.
“My active duty, I was a Patriot Missile Crewmember, and I was stationed out at Fort Bliss,” French said. “Both active and National Guard, I was on a deployment each time.”
Just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, French said that he tried to step out on his own as a businessman, but was unsuccessful.
“Things just went way south, and everything I had just — like a hole opened up in the earth and took it all away and it was just me,” he said. “I tried with what I did have to kind of stay afloat as best as possible.”
That’s when he found Liberation Veteran Services. After speaking with Cherry, French said it was only a matter of days before he was called into Family Secrets Restaurant for his first day of work.
“I like the independence,” French said. “I like that it allows you to stand on your own.”
Littleton said that it was difficult for the other veteran who was hired alongside French to keep up with the fast-paced environment of Family Secrets Restaurant. However, he said that employee would be a good fit for another local business owner.
“We can refer him to other people who need people on staff,” Cherry said. “I think that this is going to be a win-win for all.”
Cherry said she is hopeful that Liberation Veteran Services can help fill a need in the community when it comes to staffing shortages in the local service industry, as well as assisting homeless veterans in the greater Richmond area get back on their feet.
“I don’t even understand how there could be such a thing as a homeless veteran,” Cherry said. “These people, the veterans, our veterans, they went out and sacrificed and put their lives on the line for us, and we own them. We owe them. We have a debt of gratitude, we have a debt of giving back to them and we need to do more.”
Those looking to hire through Liberation Veteran Services may call Cherry at 804-233-4064 x202.