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Restaurant jobs are plentiful for seasoned workers

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

For those with hospitality and kitchen skills, now is a great time to be in Metro Detroit.

Seasoned bartenders, servers and back-of-house staff are in high demand at established businesses and those that are still getting ready to open.

Here’s just a few examples of some of the high-profile restaurants that I’ve seen are hiring:

The forthcoming Foundation Hotel in Detroit has two restaurants opening this May that will be run by Michelin two-star chef Thomas Lents, and he’s is looking for a sous chef and pastry chef. Chef James Rigato is seeking an experienced server at Mabel Gray in Hazel Park. The newly opened Bigalora in Rochester Hills is seeking an assistant kitchen managers and other back-of-house help. Birmingham’s 220 Merrill is hiring a front-of-house floor manager. The Inn Season Cafe and Jim Brady’s in Royal Oak are hiring kitchen positions.

Are there enough experienced folks in the area to fill the void? From the high volume of want ads I’ve seen, I would say no.

Kat Hawkins, general manager at Wright & Co. in Detroit agrees. I asked her recently what issues she and others in her position are facing in hiring staff. Part of the reason, she said, is that popular culture is making super stars out of chefs and bartenders, yet the reality is quite different. Working in a restaurant is hard.

“Everyone thinks they can go to culinary school and come out and be this rock star chef,” she said. “The reality of all this is that they see this cool (stuff) we do, and that’s like one percent of what we do.”

Hawkins, who compares managing a restaurant to “herding cats and adult daycare,” says in response to people who say Detroit is a “blank slate” that it may be true, but there are down sides to that, too.

“They’re mostly right, you can pretty much do your thing in Detroit,” she says of restaurateurs looking to open businesses here. “But does that mean the people you’re hiring, or the pool you’re hiring from ... do they have the experience to pull off what they’re trying to pull off?”

What does this mean for the area’s dining scene? As a diner, you may not think it affects you, but if the restaurant you’re dining in can’t find quality help, you may not get quality service.

It may take time for the workforce to gain experience and catch up to the demand for seasoned staff members.

Gary Chard of HiredKnives.com is looking for solutions to this. His website, which he launched in October 2015, works like a dating site, pairing restaurant owners and managers to those looking for work.

Right now he says more than 4,700 job seekers signed up at HiredKnives and close to 700 businesses have posted jobs. Users are largely from Detroit, but also Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.

Chard said that there’s a lack of available back-of-house staff.

“It’s probably one of the harder positions to fill,” he said. “The number of people going into the field is relatively limited because it doesn’t pay very much. You have to be into it for the love of the food.”

Chard, a former senior vice president of global compensation and human resources at Sotheby’s Auction House, said this week that he’s talking with Mayor Mike Duggan’s office to see about creating a program to offer basic skills training to job-seekers in the area to help out with the shortage of cooks.

This idea is still in its infancy, but it seems like win-win situation if done correctly. Chard is still gathering information from businesses to gauge interest.

This lack of seasoned employees could also be a call for industry professionals from big dining cities like New York and Chicago to move to Detroit — or move back to Detroit — for a job.

Deliciously brief

■A new location of Diamonds Steak and Seafood opened last Thursday in Howell at 209 E. Grand River. Chef and current owner Adam Merkel is just 34 years old and also owns the Silver Pig, which he opened in September in downtown Howell. Established in 1983, Diamond’s has been around almost as long as Merkel; he moved the restaurant from its original location at 101 W. Grand River.

■The Olga’s Kitchen restaurants at 26308 Ford in Dearborn Heights and 43201 Garfield in Clinton Township have re-opened after extensive remodels. All Olga’s restaurants have launched a brunch menu that is served weekends until 2 p.m. The morning menu includes Olga sandwiches with eggs, like the A.M. Olga with lamb and beef, eggs, spinach, feta and Olga sauce. The chain will also serve Greek donuts called loukoumades, made with Olga’s signature bread, which is fried and topped with honey and pecans.

■Fat Salmon Sushi is now open in Hamtramck at 11411 Jos Campau in the former Rock City Eatery space. They serve nearly two dozen types of sushi rolls ($4-$10), plus appetizers, soup, salad, noodle dishes, chicken teriyaki, bibimbap and more. They’re open 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 4-9 p.m. Sun. Call (313) 305-4347.

■Avalon International Breads is looking to raise funds for Alternatives for Girls this month with its “Share the Love” promotion. Throughout February, Avalon will donate a portion of sales from its incredible sea salt chocolate chip cookie gift boxes to the cause. Customers who make a donation of $25 or more at alternativesforgirls.org this month will get a voucher good for a free loaf of Avalon bread.

■Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina recently opened a new location at 6810 N. Rochester in Rochester Hills. The 4,700-square-foot space serves the brand’s freshly made pizza, pasta and salads and is open daily for lunch and dinner. Bigalora has also launched online ordering for carryout orders; visit bigalora.com.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens